Active Learning

"What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand."

- Confucius

What is Active Learning?

The wise words of Confucius made over twenty-four hundred years ago are the basis of what today we refer to as active learning. The theory of active learning has developed from the increased knowledge and research in how the brain works, characteristics of adult learners, and learning style. The result has been a shift away from training designs that are primarily lecture format to more active and experiential learning.

A key to effective training is to design learning activities so that the participants participate in acquiring knowledge and skills rather than merely listening. In other words, when the participants do most of the work, higher level thinking and application skills are increased. Active learning/training is based on the following principles:

  • Increase Participation
  • Enliven Learning
  • Deepen Retention
  • Encourage Application

Active training is a way to enliven adult learning. Some of the techniques are a lot of fun and some are very serious, but they all intend to deepen understanding and retention. Active training includes strategies to get participants active from the start through activities that build teamwork and that immediately cause the participants to think about the subject matter.

It also has strategies for conducting both small and large group learning, stimulating discussion and debate, practicing skills, promoting questions, getting the participants to teach each other, and consider the next steps to take so that the training sticks. Characteristics of active learning/training designs include:

  • Moderate level of content
  • Balance content to provide inspiration, knowledge, and skills
  • Variety of learning approaches
  • Opportunities for group participation
  • Utilization of participants' expertise
  • Recycling of earlier learned concepts and skills
  • Real life problem solving
  • Allowance for future planning

One of the goals of PENT is to provide the Cadre with training tools and strategies that can be used when training others; the strategies and materials found on the PENT website are based on the principles of active learning.


Principles of Adult Learning

Active Learning Strategies


Originally created by Alice Curtis, presented at PENT Summit 2003. Adapted here to ensure accessibility.