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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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Published on April 20, 2021

How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

Asking the right questions is basically the magic key to any kind of personal or professional development. Sounds pretty awesome, huh? Unfortunately, many people are afraid to ask questions at all. They often think that they look stupid if they ask too many questions.

Well, funny enough, it’s impossible to move forward without asking questions. How are you supposed to learn anything new if you’re never wondering, “how can I do that?” or “what is required to achieve my desired result?”

But it’s not only about asking others. You must also master the art of asking yourself the right questions. Yes, you read that right. The kind of questions you ask yourself can have a huge impact on your results. And they can, in fact, make the difference between hitting your goals and not moving forward at all.

Alright, so in this article, I’ll cover the question (you see what I mean?): how do I ask the right questions for effective learning?

Why Is Asking the Right Questions Important for Effective Learning?

Before we look at the “how,” let’s first talk about why it’s so important to ask the right questions for effective learning.

1. Questions Lead to Answers

As mentioned before, you can’t learn or move forward without asking questions. Just imagine if you start a new job and you never asked anything at all. Would you ever be able to do a good job?

Sure, you might be lucky and get all your instructions delivered on a silver platter. But even if that’s the case, what will you do with very specific situations that weren’t covered in the instructions? Or what will you do with constructive criticism from your boss?

If you just take that and then only do exactly what your boss said without ever questioning what they really meant, will you really be able to improve your work?

Okay, I think you get the point. You need answers for effective learning and improvement. And the only way to get them is through asking questions.

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2. Asking the Right Questions Will Help You Be Successful

Asking the right questions will also significantly improve your chances of being successful.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say you want to build your own business. How do you start? That’s right—that’s the first good question to ask yourself. After that, a lot of your success depends on what you’re asking yourself and others.

Now, let’s compare two kinds of questions. Let’s say you get stuck in your business building process. You could ask yourself: “why doesn’t this work for me?” Or you could ask yourself “how can I make this work for me?”

Do you see the difference? The second question is an empowering one that will guide you to success. Of course, you need to be relentless and motivated to actually find a solution. But simply asking yourself this kind of question will significantly improve your chances for success.

The first question, on the other hand, is a rather disempowering one. It puts you in a victim role where you feel sorry for yourself rather than in a position to look for a solution. And have you ever seen someone who’s victimizing themself be successful? I sure haven’t!

3. Communication Is Key for Improvement

Now, let’s quickly look at another important aspect regarding questions addressed to other people.

Good communication is essential for improvement, good relationships, and success. And that can literally be applied to any kind of situation. Be it your job, your business, your marriage, or with your friends, good communication is the foundation for healthy relationships.

Effective communication requires active listening more than anything else. But what does that mean?

It means to ask questions and then actually listen to what the other person has to say. This will not only help you improve your relationship with other people—and, therefore, help you move forward in your professional and personal life—but it will also help you gain a lot of knowledge, which is undoubtedly the most effective kind of learning.

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People love to talk about themselves. So, you only need to find people who have the answers to your questions and then listen in an active way. And boom, you probably just shortened your learning curve by 50%.

What Is Effective Learning?

Okay, I’d like to quickly touch on one more important thing before we talk about how you can ask the right questions. And that is, “what is effective learning?”

Contrary to common belief, we don’t stop learning after college. In school, we’re basically forced to learn certain topics. But it’s actually after this period that the really interesting learning period starts. Once you’re out of school, you can completely choose what things you want to learn yourself, and this is where effective learning really starts

The best example is laid out in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In his book, he explains that the only way you can move forward in today’s economy is to learn hard things at a fast pace. He specifically talks about today’s economy because things are changing faster than ever. You can’t stay stuck with 10-year old technology or you’ll soon be left behind in our fast-paced world.

So, this is basically what effective learning means—learning hard and relevant things at a fast pace.

How to Ask the Right Questions for Effective Learning

Alright, so now that you understand the importance of asking the right questions and what effective learning means, let’s put it all together.

So, here’s how to ask the right questions for effective learning.

1. Start by Asking Yourself

As mentioned before, the most important aspect is to actually start by asking yourself the right kind of questions. Pay attention to always ask empowering questions—meaning, questions that are solution-oriented.

These are often “how” questions. For instance:

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  • “How can I achieve my goal?”
  • “How can I make a better job?”
  • “How can I best use this resource?”

Avoid disempowering, victimizing questions. It’s sometimes hard to even detect those because we’re often asking ourselves these kinds of questions without even noticing.

This usually happens when we’re frustrated with a situation. These kinds of questions focus on why you’re in such a bad situation and absolutely ignore the possibility of a solution. These are often “why” questions. Here are a few examples:

  • “Why did this happen to me?”
  • “Why is everyone else successful except me?”
  • “Why can’t I be lucky for once?”

2. Ask the Right People

Once you’ve managed to ask yourself the right questions, it’s time to focus on what to ask other people. But it’s not only about what to ask. It’s also about whom to address it to.

To promote effective learning, you need to ask the right people. These are people who have gone before you and who have achieved what you want to achieve. It doesn’t even need to be in person. Reading their books and wondering “what made them successful?” is a great way to start. If you can, totally opt in for asking those people in person, though. These can become your mentors or role models who will make effective learning significantly easier.

To find the right people to ask, first determine your goal for this conversation. What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve with that knowledge? Then, find people who have already achieved that.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Once you have found the right people, it’s important to also phrase your questions the right way. That means asking open-ended questions.

As mentioned before, people love talking about themselves and their achievements. And by asking open-ended questions, you allow them to share as much as possible. This is especially great to start a conversation as it will get you a lot of information right from the get-go. Later down the road, you can ask more specific questions to get the amount of detail you need.

Great open-ended questions are: “how did you achieve (a milestone)?”; “what are the best tools to be successful?” “what helped you be so successful?”

Make sure to enter your specific goal or their success in those questions. For instance, you could ask your boss, “what helped you get promoted after only working for the company for a year?”

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4. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is an insanely powerful skill. You can “extract” all of a person’s knowledge simply by listening and asking more open-ended questions that allow them to share even more of their experience and knowledge.

Practice it with your friends or spouse. Set an intention of just listening for 10 minutes. During this time, only ask questions that allow them to talk about themselves. Don’t interrupt them and only ask deeper questions after they finished answering.

After that, think about how much you just learned about the other person. Plus, you probably made the other person feel really good and flattered. This in turn will make it easier to get even more answers from them in the future.

Once you feel comfortable, try this with one of your mentors. Believe me, they’ll love you for it, and you’ll get your answers much faster that way.

5. Focus on the Solution

One last point: always focus on the solution when asking any kind of question. This goes for asking yourself but also when asking other people.

Your subconscious will automatically guide you towards what you’re focusing on.[1] If you’re focusing on the risks or on what could go wrong, guess where you’ll end up? Right there!

If you focus on solutions and see struggles as opportunities to learn more, you’ll always end up finding solutions for any kind of problem or issue. So, asking the right questions is all about being solution-oriented and focusing on the opportunities rather than the risks.

Conclusion

Asking the right questions is not only essential for effective learning—aka learning hard things at a fast pace—but it’s also key to improving in any personal or professional area of your life.

There are two important aspects of asking the right questions. The first is about what kind of questions you ask yourself. Make sure to keep them empowering and solution-oriented. This will help guide you to success instead of keeping you stuck with a problem.

The second aspect is to ask the right kind of people to get answers that will help you achieve your goals. Make sure to find people who have gone before you. Then, ask them open-ended questions and practice active listening to learn as much as possible from them.

More Tips on Asking Questions

Featured photo credit: Product School via unsplash.com

Reference

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