McMaster University


Active Learning Techniques:
An Online Toolbox for Librarians

Active learning is…

  • student centered
  • more meaningful because context is relevant to students
  • motivational because students are a part of the learning process
  • accommodating of all student backgrounds regardless of age or ethnicity
  • accommodating of many learning styles
  • engaging
  • measurable

You and your environment can facilitate active learning by…

  • greeting students as they enter
  • asking them what they want to learn today
  • pausing for participation
  • creating a classroom that encourages flexibility
  • providing non-threatening opportunities for everyone to participate
  • giving students time to think when asking questions
  • rearranging the class room or having a classroom that has the ability to be re-arranged
  • rewarding students by thanking them for their participation and / or paraphrasing their words
  • reducing anonymity (asking names, asking about previous experience in the library)
  • drawing other students in the discussion
  • allowing an informal time to answer questions at the end of the class

Active Learning Techniques, some examples

Gin & Tonic and Boolean Logic
Targeted to university students, this active learning technique requires one-part alcohol to two-part active learning!

Using Tattooing to Teach Boolean Logic
This active learning technique is designed for a computer classroom. A thorough description of this technique includes instruction objectives, evaluation, and supplementary materials

Think-Pair-Share, Quiz Show, Boardwalk
This article describes with “pro’s” and “con’s” three active learning techniques: “Think-Pair-Share”, “Quiz Show”, and “Boardwalk” (page 4 – 6)

Classroom Structure that Encourage Student Participation
This site provides 11 methods for encouraging student participation by classroom structure. Each method includes a definition, explanation of when it should be used, necessary preparations / procedures, and limitations

Active Learning Activities
This site describes 10 active learning activities including the “One minute paper”, “Think-pair-sharing”, and “Pro and Con Grid”

Active Learning Techniques
This site describes 28 different active learning techniques

Active Learning, an overview – annotated links to great web sites!

Brainstorming on Integrating Active Learning Techniques into the Classroom Instruction Workshop
This site is a list of 99 ideas from a brainstorming session on integrating active learning techniques in the classroom. Ideas are categorized under the following headings:

  • How to run the class / how to get students involved
  • How to teach searching
  • How to select topic words
  • How to select the appropriate database and how to understand the structure of a database
  • How to select the appropriate database and how to understand the structure of a database
  • How to understand the physical library

Active Learning
This site must be consulted when preparing an instruction session with active learning techniques. Features include:

  • Three examples of Paired Activities including objectives and procedure
  • A list of questions to ask yourself during the planning phase which will ensure all bases have been covered
  • A set of general guidelines to keep in mind when introducing group activities

Active Learning Strategies
An annotated list of links on Active Learning Strategies under the following categories:

  • What Is Active Learning?
  • Motivating & Engaging Students
  • Collaborative/Cooperative Learning
  • Problem-/Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Other Resources

CAT: Active Learning
After a brief definition, this site features examples of in-class active learning techniques such as:

  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Collaborative learning groups
  • Student-led review sessions
  • Games
  • Analysis or reactions to videos

Active Learning for Information Literacy
New England Library Association Annual Conference, 2005.

What are Active Learning Techniques? Part I
This site, a scenario for designing instruction sessions, lists a range of instruction areas, defines a list of sample instruction activities, and includes a template, “Designs for Active Learning”

Resources and Further Reading

Active (Cooperative) Learning in Library Instruction
A select bibliography of articles on active learning from 1989 to 2001

Active and Cooperative Learning
This site lists online publications on active and cooperative learning in the sciences and engineering

Active Learning Bibliography
A select bibliography of books and articles compiled from 1995 to 2002. Readings are categorized by discipline (Business, Humanities, Science / Applied Science, Social Sciences, and General). Last updated in January 2003, by Charles C. Bonwell.

Active Learning Workshop
Feeling uninspired? Need a pep-talk? Dr. Charles Bonwell will come to McMaster and present any one of his six workshops on active learning.

Cameron, Beverly J. Active Learning. Halifax: STLHE, 1999.

Fosmire, M., et. al., Riding the active learning wave: problem-based learning as a catalyst for creating faculty-librarian instructional partnerships {computer file} [ Purdue University]. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship no. 34 (Spring 2002)

Grassian, Esther and Joan R. Kaplowitz. “Active Learning” In Information Literacy and Instruction Theory and Practice. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2001. 116 – 128.

Jacobson, Trudi E. and Beth L. Mark. “Teaching in the Information Age: Active Learning Techniques to Empower Students”. Reference Librarian 51/52 (1995): 105 – 120.

Quigley, B.D., et. al., Connecting Engineering Students with the Library: A Case Study in Active Learning {computer file}. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship no. 37 (Spring 2003)

Problem-based Learning, especially in the context of large classes. (McMaster University)

Teaching Tips (University of Hawaii)


Contact: Barbara McDonald
Last Reviewed: August 30, 2007