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Published on December 9, 2019

Passive Learning vs Active Learning: Which Is More Effective?

Passive Learning vs Active Learning: Which Is More Effective?

Learning has been one essential trait that sets successful people apart. Keeping yourself up to date and learning new stuff is not just a survival tactic. It is one of the few finer things of life that makes everything seem interesting and worthwhile. The more you learn, the broader your vision becomes and you realize that there is still more to learn.

But here is the catch: not everyone can learn at the same pace and reap its benefits to the maximum. It is also not assured that one technique that works for someone will work for everybody. Learning is a personal effort and the level of involvement and techniques used could greatly influence the potential benefits of learning something.

No matter what the subject matter you are trying to learn, be it theoretical or practical, there are certain common variables involved. One of those is the method you choose to learn anything. It could be either passive learning or active learning — two distinct styles of learning.

Let us look deep to understand how these two distinct modes of learning affect your learning capabilities and the knowledge retaining capabilities.

What Is Passive Learning?

Passive learning is mostly considered as a one-way effort from the learner.[1]

In this style of learning, the learner is expected to assimilate information from the facts and details presented and absorb knowledge passively. The traditional learning approaches like seminars, lectures, textbooks, presentations, online lectures and courses where communication is mostly one-way can be considered to be the examples of passive learning.

The responsibility for understanding the material falls on the learner who is expected to be concentrating on the lessons taught and doing well on their tests.

Passive learning leans more towards the theoretical side. Assessment techniques like quizzes, exams, and handouts are used to evaluate the learning progress.

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Some of the key skills that passive learning helps improve are:

  • Writing skills
  • Listening skills
  • Organization skills

What Is Active Learning?

Active learning is when the process of learning involves active participation in the form of relevant activities and discussions.[2] It enforces full engagement from the learner and does not rely on traditional lectures or textbook information alone.

Active learning encourages interactive learning sessions and promotes critical thinking.[3] Some common examples of active learning include:

  • Hands-on experiments and workshops
  • Group discussions on solving problems
  • Peer discussions and instruction on lessons
  • Games, activities, and projects that aim to simplify the learning process and gain practical experience.

Active learning focuses on the big picture rather than limiting itself to the problem at hand.[4] It encourages lateral thinking and allows students to make connections to real-world problems easily.

Learning becomes much more than knowing stuff and is steered towards a complete understanding of the concepts in relevance to the real world.

Some key skills that active learning helps sharpen are:

  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Public speaking
  • Collaboration

There is constant feedback between the learner and the tutor, allowing for a better understanding of the material and fine-tuning teaching methodologies that best suit the corresponding environment.

Active Learning vs Passive Learning

The major trait that distinguishes these styles of learning is the way students are expected to apply their thought process into learning.[5]

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While active learning encourages a subjective way of divergent thinking, passive learning promotes convergent thinking where knowing the definite answers to problems marks the progress.

Both styles have their pros and cons. Both have certain scenarios where it is more suitable than the other.

Here’re their main differences:[6]

Communication

In passive learning, communication is one way. This mode is the go-to method when you are trying to learn something by yourself especially through the internet and online courses.

Self-learning is mostly a passive process that relies on the learner’s commitment. On the other hand, active learning encourages the communication between learner groups, discussions, and interactive Q&A sessions.

Control

The control of source material and learning artifacts, in passive learning, lie mostly with the educator. Learners work with what they get and are not expected to add more to the materials.

However, this is not the case in active learning where learners are encouraged to seek out new information and discuss various possibilities.

Evaluation

In passive learning, evaluation methods are defined strictly. There is only one right answer. On the other hand, evaluation methods are flexible in active learning. They are more focused on cementing the understanding rather than testing. This allows for big-picture thinking.

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When a learner loses commitment, passive learning can suffer as there is very little external motivation or push to steer the learning place. Whereas active learning demands interactive effort to be put in from learner groups as well their teaching partners to be successful.

What Is the Best Way to Learn Effectively?

As mentioned earlier, both active and passive learning have their own territories where they work best.

While active learning can find positive results in a group study environment, passive learning is much appreciated when a driven learner wants to get the maximum benefits without interference.

Passive learning refocuses the learner and places emphasis on the educator and learning materials. This is much more useful when someone is trying to self-learn using books and online lectures and course materials. It involves little discussion and is more steered towards knowledge acquirement than exploration. This type of focused learning can be helpful when you are preparing for competitive exams.

Active learning, on the other hand, is best used when you try to explore more and find connections in the real world from what you learn. This places emphasis on asking questions, taking extra effort to explore and finding new materials and information.

So what is the ideal way to learn?

The best way to learn then is to find your purpose for learning and apply the style that best matches it.

If you are trying to ace a written exam or pass through a technical interview with set answers, passive learning is quite good to go.

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But if you need to develop your analytical skills and find newer solutions, active learning is best advised as it provides a much richer learning experience. But active learning with no focused approach can make the learner stray off-topic.

Active learning activities must be carefully designed to provide room for exploration without losing sight of the learning progress. Hence, feedback evaluation should be a necessary part of active learning.

Memorization plays an important role in passive learning whereas memory is strengthened by association through active learning.

One has to be both a passive learner capable of collecting information from set materials and still be willing to actively explore and seek out new information to be really successful in self-learning.

Passive learning like lectures and presentations are also a crucial part of active learning environments as they are more efficient in content delivery and regulating the scope of learning.

Incorporating Both Styles of Learning

Both passive and active learning methods can be made components of the learning experience to ensure better engagement.

Some ways self-learning can be designed to incorporate both styles of learning to achieve better results are:

  • Course media like lectures and videos can act as the starting point of the learning experience.
  • A list of topics like syllabus used in passive learning can be applied and then expanded upon as required to make room for active learning as and when a new subtopic or material is discovered.
  • Passive learners can seek out peers in online forums, fellow students or experts to further gain insights into their subject matter.
  • Along with traditional evaluation techniques, project-based learning can help in motivating a self-learner to better understand the subject. Projects require active participation and make sure the learner is engaged is committed to the learning process.

When it comes to learning, it is wise not to disregard both the modes of learning. Initial knowledge transfer, obviously, requires passive learning. But gaining deeper insights invariably require more engaging active learning activities.

Apply the best methods as it suits you and be committed to your learning efforts to unlock the potential you have.

More About Learning Fast

Featured photo credit: Avel Chuklanov via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] IGI Global: What is Passive Learning
[2] Cynthia J. Brame, PhD, CFT Assistant Director: Active Learning
[3] J Undergrad Neurosci Educ.: Active Learning for Students and Faculty
[4] Pearson: What does research say about active learning?
[5] Next Gen Learning: Moving from Passive to Active Learning: Four Ways to Overcome Student Resistance
[6] University of Florida: Active vs. Passive Learning in Online Courses

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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