Study and Learning

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Active learning

Learning is not just memorization of facts, but the ability to make use of educational resources to find, evaluate, and apply pertinent information. A content-packed curriculum encourages faculty to deliver primarily factual content and students to simply commit those facts to memory. How often have you just completed a series of lectures on a subject and found that you were unable to discuss even the simplest concepts covered? Students need to acquire a deeper understanding of a subject and to develop life-long learning skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.

We can achieve this goal by reducing our proportion of time spent in passive learning activities, such as listening to a lecture or reading a textbook. Enormous amounts of printed materials and electronic resources are available, but that information needs to be filtered. Filtering includes targeted reading and listening with gradual increase in complexity of resource material used. Active processing of information, not passive reception of information, leads to learning. Instructors can encourage this process by carefully considering the type and organization of information as well as instructional strategies. Students must construct their own understanding of concepts, relationships, and procedures.

Steps for Success

  • Focus on deeper understanding of knowledge, not just factual information to memorize.

  • Reduce the reliance on passive learning methods, and enhance them with active learning strategies.

  • Become active, independent learners and problem solvers. Don't just receive information; process it to become your own working knowledge.

  • Active learning includes:

    • Talking: asking questions, answering questions, discussing the material, paraphrasing out loud what you just heard or read

    • Writing or typing notes as you go; drawing pictures or diagrams

    • Performing: a procedure, a maneuver, a simulation

Methods that Work

  • Peer instruction. Work collaboratively in groups. There is benefit to both individual learning and group learning styles.

  • Collaborative testing. Work in groups to solve and answer questions. These can be self-assessments in various subject areas.

  • Educational models. Utilize models of biological processes to enhance active and collaborative efforts as well as improve critical thinking skills.

  • Experimental-based learning. Learning the concepts and functional significance of many biological processes may be enhanced by use of simulated and real experiments that provide direct experience.

  • Educational games. Gaming stimulates the mind.


Lujan HL, DiCarlo SE. Too much teaching, not enough learning: what is the solution? Adv Physiol Educ. 2006;30:17-22.

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