How To Overcome Resistance To Active Learning (Your Own, Your Students’, Your Institutions’)

How To Overcome Resistance To Active Learning (Your Own, Your Students’, Your Institutions’)

How To Overcome Resistance To Active Learning (Your Own, Your Students’, Your Institutions’)

This is an omnibus blog based on Aug 23 tweets and exchanges, reblogged here for user convenience and for future use.


  • I’m fascinated how, whenever I talk about active learning, profs will counter w stories how they tried it once and the students failed. Hmmmm… Is that really trying if that’s the way the prof responds?


  • The other response I get is that somehow my students (my CUNY students, my former Duke students, all my students???) are more motivated than theirs.  True story: I once visited a colleague’s class; he warned me, before class, that  “these students never talk in class and don’t do the reading. . . ”  But I did Think-Pair-Share and was surprised to find they were so engaged and it became 100% obvious that, in fact, they had all done the reading.  So I did two more highly successful “inventory” active learning exercises and they were vocal, smart, engaged with one another, and, contrary to predictions, it wasn’t silence with two students talking instead of and over everyone else.  He said it had been the best class of the year.


  • When I saw him the next week, after actually doing and showing him how to do 3 super successful and very easy inventory methods (where his students showed how 100% prepared and engaged they were), I said, “How’s that class going now?” He responded, “They never talk. Never read. They aren’t engaged . . . ”    Oy.


  • But I don’t really blame the prof.  For nearly 200 years, profs have not been taught either pedagogy research or techniques.  Implicitly, they have been taught that good teaching is imitating their teachers: top down, one way, banking model in the lecture and, in the seminar, the selective: ask a question, wait for the one or two extroverts or would-be college profs in the class to answer.  Those are inferior methods for learning and lead to a replication of the profession.



  • We have so much research on success of active learning for motivation, applicability, later retention—but NONE of us were trained to teach this way. Unlearning is as tough for profs as it is for our students, esp when reward structures designed for hierarchy.


  • Now, reward structure of academe is based on test scores not learning, and reward system for faculty is based on output (#s of peer reviewed essays, number of grants). There is no incentive for profs to take time to learn new (scary) methods except (a) love of learning (b) and of students and ( c) awareness of the research that shows how superior active learning is for just about everything—retention of knowledge, ability to apply it elsewhere, motivation, retention, all of it.  BUT… to learn all this, to master new methods, when it doesn’t count (or even counts against you) is asking a lot.  That’s too much self-sacrifice.


  • Graduate programs that want their own students to succeed should be teaching good, interactive, serious, engaged active learning-style experiential classes in how to be a great teacher. 




  • Institutions that want engaged, exciting, motivating teaching have to adjust their reward structures to allow real professional development to flourish. (The adage: You can’t change inequality w good will… need to design structures with equity at the core.) 

Photo Credit:  Jody Greene, UCSC Board of Trustees.