Taking Higher Education Even Higher: How Interactive Learning Benefits Students and Teachers in Higher Ed

November 30, 2021

Starting from a young age, humans learn to engage with the world by interacting with it. Toddlers don’t learn to walk because their parents stood at the front of the room and instructed them on the mechanics of walking. They learn by observing, experimenting, and practicing until they have mastered the skill. 

This trend continues into school. One study found that 4-and-5-year-olds who had a chance to play with geometric shapes learned—and retained—more than kids in the same age bracket who were given direct instruction about those shapes. 

Many early elementary teachers understand this, and education in elementary schools often uses play, movement, and group work as tools to help students learn. But somewhere between middle school and high school, these interactive methods of learning give way to lectures, slideshows, and worksheets. 

The result? 75% of 5th graders report feeling engaged in school, compared to only 32% of 11th graders who feel engaged. The recent shift to online learning has worsened this problem. 

College classrooms are typically run more like high school classrooms than elementary school classrooms. Often, they involve lectures that are tedious for students and teachers alike, with the occasional slideshow or project. Interactive learning flips this model on its head. It calls on teachers and students to work together, experiment, and explore in a way that’s much more natural to the human experience. By getting this right, teachers can not only engage their students but also enhance learning to achieve better results. 

What is Interactive Learning? 

Interactive learning is any learning that calls on students to directly engage with the material, versus listening to lectures and taking notes. This can include activities like debates, field trips, and group work. 

When students are involved in their learning, they don’t have the option to “check out” or fall asleep. Instead, they are motivated to solve problems and determine for themselves the why behind what they’re learning. 

How can Teachers Foster Interactive Learning? 

If you’ve been teaching for a long time, you know that students come into your classroom with a preconceived notion about what you’re going to teach them. College students may be eager to learn your subject if it’s of interest to them, or they may have decided before setting foot in your classroom that your subject is not useful to them and that they’re only there to fulfill a degree requirement. 

Because the students in your classroom are coming from such different mindsets, getting them to buy into interactive learning can be difficult. You may find that just posing lots of questions while you teach isn’t enough. You may only receive answers from a handful of students, while other students disengage and doze. 

So how do you foster an interactive learning environment? The key is to use teaching methods that can’t be ignored by your students and that require every student to engage. The more interactive learning strategies you can use throughout your course, the more opportunities you provide for your students to engage in active learning rather than passive learning. 

What are Strategies for Interactive Learning? 

If you’re used to teaching your students with lectures, slideshows, and podiums, it can be hard to reframe your curriculum to be more interactive. Here are some tips for integrating this learning style into your classroom. 

Group Work

The goal of splitting students into groups is to teach them how to work collaboratively while also giving them a chance to be social. But cooperative learning shouldn’t be reserved for major projects. Instead, try splitting students into small groups to discuss the readings or to brainstorm answers to questions. 

Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a great way to engage even your quietest students. Pose a question, and give students two to three minutes to compose an answer to that question and back it up. This can employ your students’ critical thinking skills or test their retention of material.


Next time you have a hard time teaching a concept to students, try letting them debate both sides of the issue. Learning to defend their answer and find supporting resources can teach them a lot more than just giving them words to memorize for your test. 

Different Environment

Some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. Take a field trip, or just take your lecture outside and enjoy nature. Giving students the opportunity to move their bodies, talk a little louder, and enjoy fresh air can do wonders for improving engagement.  

Improve Your Classroom Environment With Interactive Learning

The goal of education shouldn’t be to teach students how to pass a test. It should be to equip students with tools to learn on their own. But students can’t excel unless they are engaged. Interactive learning is a key method for teaching students effectively so they can use their knowledge both inside and outside the classroom. By bringing interactive learning to your classroom, you can not only improve your classroom environment, but also improve the overall success of your students. 

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