Active Learning

Active learning methods rely on student engagement to construct knowledge rather than passively absorb it from an expert. The focus of an active learning session is not on faculty transferring information, but on students developing skills such as demonstration, teaching, application, and discussion.

Students engaged in active learning spend time recalling prior knowledge, analyzing knowledge in the context of a question or prompt from faculty, and working with peers to solve problems or answer questions.

Students in an active learning session will often spend more time talking than faculty will. Through an active learning activity, not only are students applying the medical knowledge they're learning, they're also practicing how to work in a team and effectively communicate — skills that will serve them well as physicians.

On a typical day in the Larner Classroom, students cluster in small groups at tables scattered throughout the space, conversations buzzing. Large screens around the room show details of a clinical case on the agenda for the day. As each student group weighs the list of potential diagnoses in the hopes of coming to a consensus, the professor stops at different tables to listen in on the discussions and occasionally chime in.

Why Are We Implementing Active Learning?

As we transition to 100% active learning at the Larner College of Medicine, faculty and students are changing the way they teach and learn. Research tells us that active learning is more beneficial than passive learning. We want our faculty to facilitate critical thinking rather than simply deliver information. Compared to a traditional lecture model, active learning involves more of the following:

  • Learner participation
  • Engagement
  • Higher-order thinking
  • Learning outcomes

By replacing lectures with active learning at the Larner College of Medicine, we aim to help students think critically and apply foundational knowledge to the types of clinical situations they will face as physicians.

What Active Learning Methods Will Replace Lectures?

Active learning pedagogy emphasizes activities and assessments that promote higher-order cognitive skills, such as application, analysis, synthesis, and creation of knowledge (Jeffries, Huggett and Szarek, in press; Huggett and Jeffries, 2015). Student engagement starts with preparation before a classroom session with a focus on building foundational knowledge. Students come to an active learning classroom session armed with new knowledge, ready to apply it. Our faculty create classroom sessions with cases and problems that prompt meaningful discussion, create opportunities for students to teach their peers, and apply foundational knowledge through analysis and problem solving.

Faculty at the Larner College of Medicine have already implemented active learning approaches such as Team-Based Learning (TBL), Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Case-Based Learning (CBL), and simulations. Standardized active learning modalities allow faculty to select an approach that fits the needs of a particular class.

Our Active Learning Environment

Space Transformation Video

What Are the Students Saying?

Harris SyedFor Harris Syed, class of 2020, it’s an engaging way to learn.

“You’re using your knowledge to answer questions, as opposed to just passively sitting back, where it's easy to get distracted.”


Soraiya ThuraSoraiya Thura, class of 2019, was quoted in a Boston Globe Article.

“I walked out feeling like I had a much better grasp on the information.”


What Are the Faculty Saying?

Paula Tracy

"I've flipped every one of my lectures, and it's the most fun I've ever had," says Paula Tracy, Ph.D, professor of biochemistry.


Rebecca Wilcox“When students work through clinical problems and experience it as a process, it sticks,” says Rebecca Wilcox, M.D., associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine. “This is great for retention but it also helps you grow as a team player and as a communicator – all essential skills to practicing medicine.” 


Faculty and students in a case-based session

Active Learning Quiz

Student responding to a readiness test


Student team responding to a discussion question


Students discussing a case