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What Is Active Learning? Understanding Benefits, Tips and Techniques

‍Employees who stay with a company the longest are the ones who have been invested in the most. So if a company wants to retain such employees—they need to engage them in exciting new projects and processes continually.

Unfortunately, familiarity can sometimes breed complacency. Someone in a company that knows how to get the job done may be reluctant to embrace new processes. This is often true even if new processes are more effective than the old ones. 

If you want to engage team members and keep them around for the long haul, you should encourage them to welcome new ideas and ways of doing things.

Put another way, the success of companies is based on a team’s desire to learn more about the industry and their positions within it.

This is where active learning comes into play. Active learning allows teams to engage with one another while embracing new skills and challenging industry conventions. When you encourage teams to learn actively instead of passively, you breathe new life into a workplace.

What is Active Learning?

Active learning was first defined in the 1990s. Before that, it was typical for employers to rely on lectures to train employees. But it became clear that most employees weren’t fully embracing the training that their employers were offering.

As active learning began to take off, workshops started to become more engaging. Speakers didn’t necessarily change their messages, but they did require more responsiveness from the audience. Instead of just listening to someone speak, employees were expected to read about, write about, and discuss the core concepts that they were learning.

The popularity of active learning continued to grow. Active learning inspires greater collaborative learning among members of a team. It also engages creative thinking better than traditional learning does. 

When your team has to work to make the most of training, they improve their critical thinking skills. In turn, they can take the lessons they’ve learned back into the workplace, where they can offer more creative solutions to everyday problems.

Different Types of Learning

Active learning is only one type of learning that your team can benefit from in the office setting. Your team can utilize all of these learning styles to their advantage. 

The most common methods of learning used in the workplace include:

Active Learning

As we’ve mentioned, active learning requires teams to engage with an ongoing workshop or seminar. This learning style demands peer-to-peer interaction, discussion, and critical assessment of the lessons that an expert shares.

Passive Learning

Passive learning means that your team has to educate themselves about new concepts for the most part. While this learning method allows your teams to work at their own pace, it can also leave some members behind if they are slow to learn or less ambitious. 

Passive learning does not encourage active engagement with the materials—or with other team members. As a result, trainees won’t bounce ideas off of one another, nor will they generate any social benefits from their experience.

That isn’t to say that passive learning doesn’t have a place in your office. If your team works remotely, passive learning may be one of the best ways to teach your staff about new company procedures. 

However, it’s best to intermingle active and passive learning techniques to cultivate a healthy office environment.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning takes active learning through a natural progression. Also known as immersive learning, experiential learning throws your team into the deep end of the learning curve. 

Employees fully immerse themselves in workplace scenarios in a way that gives them real-world skills without any negative real-world consequences. Teams should come away from this experience understanding how to address complicated industry scenarios with creative solutions.

In short, experiential learning is designed to help your team gain industry knowledge through cultivated failure in a safe environment. However, this method requires a significant setup and can often take full days away from the office. 

With that in mind, experiential learning is often best used during team-building excursions or on a limited basis during the year.

Active Learning vs. Passive Learning vs. Experiential Learning

One method of learning is not necessarily better than the other. With that being said, active, passive, and experiential learning methods all have their pros and cons.

Passive learning, for example, suits remote offices well. This method is by far the most traditional style of those presented here, as it requires little setup and allows your staff to learn at their own pace. 

However, passive learning can be an isolating experience. Your team can’t always take advantage of social interactions to verify the concepts they’ve learned independently. In addition, the social environment within your office may suffer, even as your team learns new industry tricks and information.

Active learning removes the social barrier from the passive learning process. While active learning workshops and seminars often take longer than passive ones, they encourage a greater sense of community. 

Active learning teams must communicate with one another to discuss new ideas and think critically about workplace questions. Again, while these activities can take up a good amount of time, they’ll leave your team with a host of social and educational benefits.

Finally, experiential learning pushes in-office education to its greatest extreme. Fully immersive experiences are fantastic ways to let your team fail with few consequences. 

Arranging these experiences, however, can be expensive in both time and money. So while experiential learning seminars may be fantastic additions to a team-building weekend, both active and passive learning strategies are more time-efficient, especially in a busy environment.

Choosing a Learning Style

Is one form of learning better than the other? Not necessarily. Everyone in your office learns differently. As such, they’ll all respond to in-office seminars with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm. It’s up to you to determine which learning method best suits the bulk of your team—and subsequently, your business.

How Does Active Learning Benefit the Workplace?

Active learning requires your speakers and workshop leaders to engage with teams deliberately. This kind of engagement lengthens workshops, requires more materials, and makes more demands of your staff’s time. The benefits of active learning, however, vastly outweigh their costs. 

Some of the most relevant benefits that can impact your workplace include the following:

1. Real-World Applications

Active learning isn’t just a skill that your team uses in workshops or seminars. When your team puts their minds to work, the benefits will appear throughout your organization. Team members might be more likely to view interpersonal office issues through the lens of active problem-solving. They may even address client concerns with a mind for communal improvement.

2. Improved Critical Thinking

Critical thinking keeps your team from becoming complacent. Learning how to think critically about problems, however, requires concentrated practice. 

If your team doesn’t have the opportunity to flex their mental muscles often, the solutions they pose for your company’s problems aren’t likely to be creative. What’s more, a lagging team may even begin to reverse the progress that your business has made over the years.

A team that can think critically about client needs—while actively improving the office space—will drive a company’s productivity. 

As your team members get better at flexing their critical thinking, they’ll start to be able to offer unique, well-researched opinions on both in-office issues and client concerns.

3. Greater Employee Independence

Active learning encourages employee interaction. But it can also improve your employees’ independence. How? By increasing their confidence. 

Employees who feel like they can use their expertise to solve problems are less likely to rely on old crutches for help. In turn, they’ll be more willing to take creative risks in the workplace.

This independence will not necessarily separate your team members from the rest of your workplace community. Instead, it can give them the footing they need to stand on their own, solve problems, and raise suggestions with their peers.

4. Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Innovation is the name of the game when it comes to industry developments. If companies want to stand out from the rest, teams need to think outside of the box. This can be challenging, however, when a team prefers to rely on old standards and procedures.

If you’re going to inspire out-of-the-box thinking, you need an engaged workforce. Active learning drives your team to think of new and exciting ways to address typical business problems. 

When they have that foundation to build on, your team can apply their improved critical thinking skills to any upcoming problems they may face, both in their personal lives and at the office.

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Tips and Tricks for Active Learning

It’s one thing to ask your team to learn about your industry actively. It’s another to give them the tools to do so! 

If you want your team to embrace active learning strategies, you need to make sure the framework for that switch is in place. 

To help your team embrace active learning, you can try the following suggestions: 

Encourage Paired Sharing

Active learning works best when team members can rely on one another. With this in mind, try to address new developments in your industry from a group perspective. Encourage teams to connect, either in a dedicated setting or on their own time, to discuss the developments that they see. 

“Paired sharing” encourages these partners to put their heads together and consider how new developments may impact your business. This process lets your team explore new ways to expand your business or ways old processes could be improved. 

Additionally, it encourages deliberate social interaction between two people who might otherwise not have much reason to connect. This can be especially helpful in organizations that suffer from “silos,” where teams operate independently.

The one-two punch of active engagement and deliberate socialization spells good things for your business. A team that feels comfortable having in-depth conversations with one another is a team that will carry those habits into their day-to-day responsibilities.

Ask for Summaries

A thesis refers to the fundamental subject of workshops, lectures, and even one-on-one conversations. If your team can identify a workshop’s thesis, they’ll be closer to understanding the lesson you want to teach them.

While it may seem simple, there’s a lot of value in asking your team to pull the thesis out of an educational workshop or seminar. By having your team work together and think critically about what they’ve just heard, you can ensure that they have a better chance of remembering their newest lesson.

Have Peers Teach Each Other

Listening to a lesson is just one way to learn. Studies show that your employees often know best when they have a chance to explain something they’ve learned to another person. 

One way to encourage peers to teach each other is to offer opportunities for cross-training. If one of your employees has a specific set of tasks that they’re responsible for or a unique skill that brings value to your organization, consider having them teach another employee from a different department about it. This can help to encourage cross-team partnerships and allow employees to practice active learning.

This peer-to-peer instruction has benefits on two fronts. For starters, you can ensure that your staff understands the lessons imparted by a lecture or workshop—and you can correct them if their assessment seems off. 

What’s more, peer-to-peer instruction encourages employee interaction. As your team gets to know one another through these lessons, they’ll have more opportunities to connect on a closer level. 

A team that feels comfortable with one another is more likely to ask questions. The more questions your team asks, the more likely they are to engage with your training and actively put their newfound knowledge to good use on a day-to-day basis.

Learn from Examples

Experiential learning is such a good learning strategy because it is based on examples. Although experiential learning tends to be more time-intensive, it is possible to use this technique without spending an entire day crafting an immersive hypothetical.

Instead, use real-world examples. Bring in an expert to discuss the ways competitors and peers in your industry have improved their businesses. Let your team see examples of the ways new technologies have transformed other office spaces. When your team has examples of new developments to reference, they can use those concepts to drive change within your own company.

Determining which examples to use, however, can be a tricky endeavor. Teams that work better with visual examples may benefit from watching video lectures or YouTube talks. Visual learners may even prefer learning from case studies as long as they have the chance to discuss their findings afterward. 

Hands-on teams may want to plan an in-person visit to check out businesses that have put new development strategies to good use.

Spend time getting to know your team and learning about their preferred method of engagement. As soon as you know how best to broach a new lesson, you can start improving productivity throughout your office.

Seek to Improve Over Time

When you first introduce your team to active learning strategies, it’s easy to hope that you’ll see immediate change. But, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a silver bullet in terms of learning. Even when you provide the tools to improve your team’s engagement, they will need time to learn how to use them.

With this in mind, be patient with your team. Check in with your team and ensure that they’re taking advantage of the workshops, seminars, and other activities you’re setting up on their behalf. 

If you notice someone taking a step back, guide them towards improvement. After a few weeks and even months, you’ll see the impact that this kind of patience can have on the atmosphere in your office.

Introducing Active Learning Habits into Your Office Life

Teaching your team to learn actively instead of passively is a process. You will take steps back as you move forward. 

This doesn’t mean that the work isn’t worth it. The benefits of active learning strategies—from improved office productivity to increased employee confidence—all help your bottom line. What’s more, a team that knows how to think critically about the problems they encounter is more likely to help your business stand out.

The best part? You don’t have to do it alone. Continu is a Learning Amplification Platform™ that helps you can encourage your team to participate in workshops, take quizzes, and read articles about the active learning strategies that suit your development strategy. You can track your team’s progress, ensuring that everyone gets the active learning assistance they need.

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