Becoming an Active Learner

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This resource is designed to help you reflect on your own learning and to provide you with tips on becoming an active learner. Learning is hard work, but it can be rewarding if you know how!


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Spend a few moments reflecting on these questions:
  • Why are you learning?
  • How do you approach your learning?
Do you sit back and expect the teacher to educate you, or do you take a more active role in the process?

In the traditional university lecture, the role of the student was fairly passive. The assumption underlying the lecture is that the student only needs to attend and passively receive knowledge which is transmitted to them by the “sage on the stage”.

Educational research shows that learners who actively engage with course material tend to learn much more effectively than those who do not. Presumably you want to get the most benefit out of your educational experience.

How can you move towards becoming a more active learner?

“Active learners are on a quest for knowledge“(Kelly, 2008)

Active learners actively seek to understand the subject material, clarify anything which they do not understand, and may extend the scope of their learning into areas outside of specified course work.

We encourage you to take the first steps in becoming an active learner. You will reap the rewards!

Your first steps on the road to active learning

First Steps

Image courtesy of Sean Dreilinger
Active learning is not rocket science and you already have a wealth of experience from which you can draw. The road to active learning is facilitated by:
  1. Being prepared
  2. Taking the fist steps -- be proactive!
  3. Engaging in the learning process through active study
  4. Enjoying your learning

Prepare for important educational events

  • “Make sure you do any reading, assignments and prep work before attending the class. Don't just do the minimum, but come prepared to be part of the class discussion that night.” (Kirk, 2008)
  • Kirk is talking about a regular face-to-face class, but the same idea applies to online study. Complete all of the activities. When you're posting to the course email group, be considered in your postings. Take some time to make sure that your email is saying what you want it to. Make sure you're prepared for discussion in any elluminate (virtual classroom) sessions we have.
  • Prepare for group work: Don't let the group down.
  • Prepare for clinical assessments: Get your hands on the assessment schedule, and make sure you understand what you're being assessed on. What are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses? What can you do to improve your weak areas?
  • Prepare for theoretical tests: Try to get a copy of a previous test if there are any, otherwise listen to your lecturer to find out what they recommend you study. Look at what was emphasized in the course – it's likely to be emphasized in the exam as well.

Be Proactive

  • Seek learning: Don't just sit back & expect everything to be given to you: If you don't understand something investigate the answer. The answer to almost every question is just a well worded Google search away. Another alternative is sending your query to the class email group.
  • Ask questions: If you're in a classroom situation and you don't understand something ask for clarification. Chances are you're not the only one in the class who's a bit confused.
  • Self-directed study ?: If you're really interested in a topic, consider doing a bit of self-directed study in this area. Your desire to do this will probably depend on your current workload. Don't overload yourself.

Study Actively

  • Take notes: When you're reading something that seems important, or when you're listening to a lecture or presentation, make that sure you take notes. To take notes, you have to be listening and engaged with what is being said. It's especially important to take notes in your practical classes. You might never see what is being demonstrated again.
  • Review your notes: It's generally a good idea to go over your notes within a day or two of taking them. Notes when first taken are generally fairly rough, and often have missing information. If you rewrite them within a few days, it's not too hard to remember what you meant by what you've written, and to fill in the blanks from your memory of the lecture/class/etc.
  • Compare, compare, compare: “Don't rely on any one source of information. Compare, compare, compare! Though different texts and supplemental materials may agree on all the main points (or not), they each speak in different voices, adding dimension to the subject matter and giving you a better grasp of the subject.” (Fortune, 2008)
  • Apply it: “If possible "apply" or experience aspects of the course material in everyday life. Visit a museum or historical landmark, do something "hands-on" that relates to what you are learning. It may involve volunteer work, viewing a masterpiece up close, strolling through a historical district or perusing a rare manuscript. Create an adventure out of it and become part of the action. The world can be your lab.” (Fortune, 2008) In the massage context almost all of the learning is linked to application. In each massage you do you should really be considering how the massage application is affecting the emotional state of the receiver, the physiology of the body, any medical considerations, etc... the list goes on. (well after the 2nd practical block anyway).

Enjoy the experience of learning something new.

  • Learning can be really enjoyable:. “I really enjoyed learning about the body while studying, and have continued to follow my interests in the worlds of myofascial work, somatics, education and business since then.” (McQuillan,personal communication,February 18,2008)


Various (2008). Adult education: How to be an active learner. Retrieved from [1] on 18/12/08.

Reference List

Fortune, V. (2008). How to be an active learner. Retrieved from [2] on 18/2/08.

Kelly, A. (2008). How to be an active learner. Retrieved from [3] on 18/2/08.

Kirk, C. (2008). How to be an active learner. Retrieved from [4] on 18/2/08