About active learning

In Scotland, as in many countries throughout the world, active learning is seen as an appropriate way for children and young people to develop vital skills and knowledge and a positive attitude to learning.

Active learning is learning which engages and challenges children and young people’s thinking using real-life and imaginary situations. It takes full advantage of the opportunities for learning presented by:

  • spontaneous play
  • planned, purposeful play
  • investigating and exploring
  • events and life experiences
  • focused learning and teaching.

All active learning opportunities can be supported when necessary through sensitive intervention to support or extend learning. All areas of the curriculum, at all stages, can be enriched and developed through an active approach.

Active learning has long been an established approach in early years settings, and when asked to reflect on what active learning might look like in early primary school, delegates to a Curriculum for Excellence conference for early years suggested:

'A true building on experiences in nursery. Hands-on independent play with appropriate skilled intervention/teaching.'

'Children learn by doing, thinking, exploring, through quality interaction, intervention and relationships, founded on children’s interests and abilities across a variety of contexts. All combining to building the four capacities for each child.'

'Environments that offer differential play and challenge, staff who are well informed and able to challenge learning, child-centred and building on previous experiences, fun absolutely essential, children planning and evaluating their learning.'

Active learning and the four capacities

Active learning can support learners' development of the four capacities in many ways. For example, they can develop as:

  • successful learners through using their imagination and creativity, tackling new experiences and learning from them, and developing important skills including literacy and numeracy through exploring and investigating while following their own interests
  • confident individuals through succeeding in their activities, having the satisfaction of a task accomplished, learning about bouncing back from setbacks, and dealing safely with risk
  • responsible citizens through encountering different ways of seeing the world, learning to share and give and take, learning to respect themselves and others, and taking part in making decisions
  • effective contributors through interacting together in leading or supporting roles, tackling problems, extending communication skills, taking part in sustained talking and thinking, and respecting the opinions of others.

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