3 Develop active learning strategies

Learning Objectives

By the time you have finished this chapter, you will be able to:

  • List ways you can incorporate active learning into your study strategies
  • Describe the role of independent learning in university courses

One major concept in the Canadian education system is that courses may use a wide variety of active learning activities — both in and outside of the classroom.  This is particularly true in post-secondary education.  Your learning may involve listening, reading, taking notes, and writing.  It also may involve group discussions, presentations, simulations, creating diagrams or posters, and solving problems.  Active learning strengthens your understanding of course content by allowing you to approach it in different ways, critically think about what you are learning, and develop strong skills for communicating with others.

Making Active Learning Work for You

The four broad categories of learning strategies that you may encounter in an active learning classroom are: individual activities; paired activities; informal small groups; and cooperative student projects. When you are engaging in an active learning activity, you may want to think about the following questions:

  1. What Learning Objective does this learning activity help me to achieve?
  2. Do I need to prepare for an upcoming activity outside of class (for example, by pre-reading?).  How will I do this?
  3. How much time do I have for this activity?  How should I organize this time?
  4. Is this an individual, pair, or small group activity?  If I am working in a pair or group, how will we organize ourselves to work effectively?
  5. Will I submit this activity to my instructor during or after class?  Is this activity part of a larger project that I will submit later?

Choosing to participate as fully as possible in the active learning process allows you to get the most benefit from attending class.  This is one of the reasons why regular class attendance is an important part of successful learning at KPU. [1]

Independent Study

Most KPU course meet for 3 hours weekly, often only once a week.  However, it is important to know that you are expected to put in significant independent study time for each course; typically, you should spend 2-3 hours of independent study time for each hour of time you spend in class.  This means that, on average, one university course requires 9-12 hours of your time each week.

What do you do with this time? One of the differences you may notice is that instructors give less direction about what they would like you to do week to week. The responsibility for meeting the Learning Objectives of the course is up to you.  For many courses, your independent study time might include:

  • Reading all required and recommended course readings (ideally, before attending class).
  • Writing notes on your reading.
  • Reviewing your notes and self-testing.  Use active learning techniques here rather than simple re-reading.  Discuss material in a study group, use flash cards,  create charts and diagrams, and actively quiz yourself.
  • Preparing for tests and exams.
  • Completing assignments.

In the next chapter, you will learn more about how to manage your time for effective independent learning.


  1. Macpherson, A. (n.d.). Active Learning. Kwantlen Polytechnic University. https://www.kpu.ca/sites/default/files/Learning%20Centres/Study_ActiveLearning_LA_0.pdf

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Preparing for the Canadian Classroom by Kwantlen Polytechnic University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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