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Passive Vs. Active Learning In Lectures and Presentations

Many trainers will talk about lectures and presentations as examples of passive learning, and spit on the floor to show their disdain for them.

That's more a reflection of the lack of understanding of modern learning theory than anything else.

Usually trainers call this kind of learning "passive" because there is no observable indication that the learner is actually doing or accomplishing anything. That's a bit trainer centered.

No Such Thing As Passive Learning

In fact, since learning occurs in the brain, which is hidden from view, and no learning canoccur unless the brain actively processes information, there really is no such thing as passive learning. The brain is ALWAYS active, except in comatose people, and so it's always learning anyway.

So long as people attend to, and process information available through the senses, they can learn and are learning, whether the trainer sees the activity.

Visible Activity Does Not Mean Learning Is Happening

On the flip side, what trainers often call active learning involves visible activity, at least from the trainer or observer's position. Trainers like active learning. But here's the catch. It doesn't matter what is observable per se, because, as we said earlier, learning occurs hidden from us in the brain. It's quite possible to have people participate in visible learning activities and have them NOT learn much at all. It all depends how the process the experience.

But Visible Active Learning Is Valuable

From a trainer's point of view, visible and active learning (engaging in active learning activities) is valuable, because it allows for processes that are critical in learning environments -- the opportunity to practice things, even mental things, and the opportunity for learners to receive feedback. WIthout those opportunities its hard to learn efficiently.

Further, when learners are engaged in various learning activities, the trainer can observe them, and know "how they are doing", and modify instruction on the fly.

So, the issue isn't so much whether learners are active or passive, since brains are almost always active, but whether visible activities are valuable for other reasons.

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