VMS Active Learning Pedagogy – Part 1

Active learning has been an established term among pedagogical approaches [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_learning ]. However, at VMS, active learning is adopted as a variance of the generally recognized “active learning” concept. More specifically, it is used here as a tool that hopefully will unlock limitation posed by the centralized lecturing method.

Student (the learner) is expected to be the active part of the learning process. Essentially, each student is encouraged to acquire the knowledge and skills through the process that he/she has control on the timing of each learning activity. Consequently, teacher/professor no longer directly controls the timing of each student’s learning, but takes the more responsive role, the somehow passive one. He/she is no longer the center of interest in class and will minimize the need to conduct the entire class.

On class preparation, teacher/processor has to prepare adequate resources as well as steps of learning missions that each student can manage to go through with his/her own effective learning rate. Then the class time will be mainly utilized for inducing and supporting the learning in each student.

Reader may notice now that the word “student” in this article is always in a singular form. It reflects the objective of the active learning pedagogy at VMS that learning is treated in the level of “individual” process rather than in a “collective” level like in the typical lecture class. In short, the goal of the active learning class is for the teacher/professor to guide each individual student to learn at the most fruitful pace that he/she can.

Will a little bit of teacher-centered teaching help making this active learning more complete? I will not rule out the possibility. But ultimately, I still believe that such a teaching will only be useful when it is needed by a group of students who are ready to learn a topic that way.

This is not a pedagogical method for any teacher/professor who believes that he/she has been successful at lecturing, or believes that students has learned substantially from what he/she presented in the class. However, as I mentioned in my previous article, while most teachers hope that their lectures are exception of the low learning rate phenomenal, the truth is that most are not. On the other hand, teacher/professor who seeks to break out of such limitation is a prime candidate to try out active learning.

I should only mention that a closely related pedagogical method, the flipped classroom, can be conducted in the same classroom that VMS arranges for active learning. However, there are fundamental differences between active learning and flipped classroom. The goal of active learning is still the “learning”, not just the “problem solving skills”. Knowledge contents are learned in the active learning class, whether through problem-oriented or content-oriented scheme, while they are self-learned before coming to the problem-based session in flipped classroom. Teacher/professor may be a little more adaptive in adopting methods that fit his/her objective.

At the time of this writing, two VMS Active Learning Classrooms have just been operational. A few sections of course are being adapted to utilize the classrooms and a few variances of this pedagogical method are being tried and tested by the relevant VMS faculty members. My personal experience with the classroom so far has been that it fits my objective perfectly. However, I also have seen possibility of pitfalls as well as improvements.