Every once in a while it happens…it’s called insight in my psychology class; that ah-ha moment when the light bulb switches on in your head. This may occur when a complex idea or concept suddenly ‘clicks’ or when the clouds suddenly rise and clarity of understanding happily smacks you in the face. For me, this insight most recently came in the form of a comment by Ken Sheck to my latest article, In Defense of Lecture in the Classroom. His comment discusses misuse of the terms active and passive learning. Here is an excerpt:
“…the term “passive learning” is an oxymoron. There is no such thing. If students are learning, then they are NOT passive, and learning does not always include moving or talking…”
Yes. Yes. Yes. So well said, and sums up in less than fifty words what took me over six hundred words to say in this post on engagement. Engagement and learning is an exercise of focused cognition. Without mentally attending to material/information, there can be no learning. The idea of passive learning vs. active learning as an outward expression of engagement is very misleading. A student can look ‘active’ with their learning because they are having a discussion with others or using a manipulative, but without assessment of the student’s cognition, we (students and teachers) should not assume learning has occurred. Conversely, a student can appear ‘passive’ in their learning because they are quietly reading; not in a collaborative group or creatively working with material. In both instances, the student(s) may or may not be learning.
So, back to Mr. Sheck’s comment of ‘passive learning’ as an oxymoron. Learning cannot be mentally passive. If we are talking about actual growth in knowledge and not just a viewing of students performing a task, the idea of passive learning doesn’t exist. It must be active…cognitively active. If you are passively learning, from the mental aspect of it all, you are not learning.
Eureka…so simple…so poignant.
It is not lost on me that this is the shortest blog post I’ve ever written. I am a big proponent of a simpler, less cluttered classroom. I believe we sometimes make the act of learning too complex. With that in mind, I will end this post without overcomplicating its point. When something is well said…simply said…leave it alone.
There is nothing more for me to say…but what do you say?
Do you agree? Is ‘passive learning’ a myth?