Learning has been one essential trait that sets successful people apart. Keeping yourself up to date and learning new stuff is not just a survival tactic. It is one of the few finer things of life that makes everything seem interesting and worthwhile. The more you learn, the broader your vision becomes and you realize that there is still more to learn.
But here is the catch: not everyone can learn at the same pace and reap its benefits to the maximum. It is also not assured that one technique that works for someone will work for everybody. Learning is a personal effort and the level of involvement and techniques used could greatly influence the potential benefits of learning something.
No matter what the subject matter you are trying to learn, be it theoretical or practical, there are certain common variables involved. One of those is the method you choose to learn anything. It could be either passive learning or active learning — two distinct styles of learning.
Let us look deep to understand how these two distinct modes of learning affect your learning capabilities and the knowledge retaining capabilities.
What Is Passive Learning?
Passive learning is mostly considered as a one-way effort from the learner.((IGI Global: What is Passive Learning))
In this style of learning, the learner is expected to assimilate information from the facts and details presented and absorb knowledge passively. The traditional learning approaches like seminars, lectures, textbooks, presentations, online lectures and courses where communication is mostly one-way can be considered to be the examples of passive learning.
The responsibility for understanding the material falls on the learner who is expected to be concentrating on the lessons taught and doing well on their tests.
Passive learning leans more towards the theoretical side. Assessment techniques like quizzes, exams, and handouts are used to evaluate the learning progress.
Some of the key skills that passive learning helps improve are:
- Writing skills
- Listening skills
- Organization skills
What Is Active Learning?
Active learning is when the process of learning involves active participation in the form of relevant activities and discussions.((Cynthia J. Brame, PhD, CFT Assistant Director: Active Learning)) It enforces full engagement from the learner and does not rely on traditional lectures or textbook information alone.
Active learning encourages interactive learning sessions and promotes critical thinking.((J Undergrad Neurosci Educ.: Active Learning for Students and Faculty)) Some common examples of active learning include:
- Hands-on experiments and workshops
- Group discussions on solving problems
- Peer discussions and instruction on lessons
- Games, activities, and projects that aim to simplify the learning process and gain practical experience.
Active learning focuses on the big picture rather than limiting itself to the problem at hand.((Pearson: What does research say about active learning?)) It encourages lateral thinking and allows students to make connections to real-world problems easily.
Learning becomes much more than knowing stuff and is steered towards a complete understanding of the concepts in relevance to the real world.
Some key skills that active learning helps sharpen are:
- Public speaking
There is constant feedback between the learner and the tutor, allowing for a better understanding of the material and fine-tuning teaching methodologies that best suit the corresponding environment.
Active Learning vs Passive Learning
The major trait that distinguishes these styles of learning is the way students are expected to apply their thought process into learning.((Next Gen Learning: Moving from Passive to Active Learning: Four Ways to Overcome Student Resistance))
While active learning encourages a subjective way of divergent thinking, passive learning promotes convergent thinking where knowing the definite answers to problems marks the progress.
Both styles have their pros and cons. Both have certain scenarios where it is more suitable than the other.
Here’re their main differences:((University of Florida: Active vs. Passive Learning in Online Courses))
In passive learning, communication is one way. This mode is the go-to method when you are trying to learn something by yourself especially through the internet and online courses.
Self-learning is mostly a passive process that relies on the learner’s commitment. On the other hand, active learning encourages the communication between learner groups, discussions, and interactive Q&A sessions.
The control of source material and learning artifacts, in passive learning, lie mostly with the educator. Learners work with what they get and are not expected to add more to the materials.
However, this is not the case in active learning where learners are encouraged to seek out new information and discuss various possibilities.
In passive learning, evaluation methods are defined strictly. There is only one right answer. On the other hand, evaluation methods are flexible in active learning. They are more focused on cementing the understanding rather than testing. This allows for big-picture thinking.
When a learner loses commitment, passive learning can suffer as there is very little external motivation or push to steer the learning place. Whereas active learning demands interactive effort to be put in from learner groups as well their teaching partners to be successful.
What Is the Best Way to Learn Effectively?
As mentioned earlier, both active and passive learning have their own territories where they work best.
While active learning can find positive results in a group study environment, passive learning is much appreciated when a driven learner wants to get the maximum benefits without interference.
Passive learning refocuses the learner and places emphasis on the educator and learning materials. This is much more useful when someone is trying to self-learn using books and online lectures and course materials. It involves little discussion and is more steered towards knowledge acquirement than exploration. This type of focused learning can be helpful when you are preparing for competitive exams.
Active learning, on the other hand, is best used when you try to explore more and find connections in the real world from what you learn. This places emphasis on asking questions, taking extra effort to explore and finding new materials and information.
So what is the ideal way to learn?
The best way to learn then is to find your purpose for learning and apply the style that best matches it.
If you are trying to ace a written exam or pass through a technical interview with set answers, passive learning is quite good to go.
But if you need to develop your analytical skills and find newer solutions, active learning is best advised as it provides a much richer learning experience. But active learning with no focused approach can make the learner stray off-topic.
Active learning activities must be carefully designed to provide room for exploration without losing sight of the learning progress. Hence, feedback evaluation should be a necessary part of active learning.
Memorization plays an important role in passive learning whereas memory is strengthened by association through active learning.
One has to be both a passive learner capable of collecting information from set materials and still be willing to actively explore and seek out new information to be really successful in self-learning.
Passive learning like lectures and presentations are also a crucial part of active learning environments as they are more efficient in content delivery and regulating the scope of learning.
Incorporating Both Styles of Learning
Both passive and active learning methods can be made components of the learning experience to ensure better engagement.
Some ways self-learning can be designed to incorporate both styles of learning to achieve better results are:
- Course media like lectures and videos can act as the starting point of the learning experience.
- A list of topics like syllabus used in passive learning can be applied and then expanded upon as required to make room for active learning as and when a new subtopic or material is discovered.
- Passive learners can seek out peers in online forums, fellow students or experts to further gain insights into their subject matter.
- Along with traditional evaluation techniques, project-based learning can help in motivating a self-learner to better understand the subject. Projects require active participation and make sure the learner is engaged is committed to the learning process.
When it comes to learning, it is wise not to disregard both the modes of learning. Initial knowledge transfer, obviously, requires passive learning. But gaining deeper insights invariably require more engaging active learning activities.
Apply the best methods as it suits you and be committed to your learning efforts to unlock the potential you have.
More About Learning Fast
- 13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster
- How to Learn Fast and Remember More: 5 Effective Techniques
- How to Create an Effective Learning Process And Learn Smart
Author: Leon Ho
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