Active Vs Passive Learning

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This post is about Active Vs Passive Learning. What’s the difference? How do we stop studying passively? Why is active learning better than passive learning?

Studying is hard enough without having to study how to study. Schools don’t teach us how to study, instead they give us the content and let us get on with it ourselves. Wouldn’t our lives be easier if we were taught how to study from the beginning, if we were taught how to consistently score well on tests, if those of us who want to study didn’t have to spend hours researching how to actually study?

Unfortunately, we are not taught how to study. We learn from movies that studying consists of taking notes and highlighting every other word in the text book. School teaches us this as well, in a way. We are told to write down everything from the board, whether we understand it or not, and to highlight keywords in order to remember them.

The good thing is there are millions of resources out there telling us what to do and how to do it. Most of us start our studying journey by learning passively, when, in fact, we should be learning actively. But how do we learn actively?

Active Vs Passive Learning

What’s the difference?

Where passive learning is simply about collecting information, taking notes and highlighting, active learning forces our brains to recall information, which strengthens our memory. So the difference between Active Vs Passive Learning is that active learning helps you to understand and memorise the content, whereas passive learning does not. This is why active learning is soo much better.

What is active recall?

Active recall is basically the same thing as active learning. Have you ever used flashcards? That’s active recall. Do you do practise questions? That’s active recall. In short, active recall is simply where you have to recall the information that you have learnt. Let’s say you are learning about photosynthesis. Your would study that topic enough so that you understand it. While you are studying, you should be writing down a series of questions about the topic for you to answer in the end.

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As I was taking notes on photosynthesis, I was writing questions about the topic. After taking notes and writing down questions, I took a 5-minute break. Then I answered the questions without looking at the notes (obviously the layout used above is not good at all). If I didn’t get a question write, I would study the answer to that question, take a break, and try again.

What not to do when using active recall!

There are plenty of things that people think are right to do when using active recall. In my earlier example with photosynthesis, the way I way took notes and came up with questions is good, but there are many ways people could do this wrong. These are:

  • Using too many questions. If you write questions on every single point, then there will be too much information. This could lead to cognitive overload, which affects the transfer to long term memory.
  • Write questions on the same page as your notes. I know, that’s what I did in my example, but please, don’t do that. If you do, you’re just cheating.
  • Re-writing the answer to every question you get wrong. Unless you know that writing things out ingrains the information into your brain, it’s pointless. It’s a waste of time.

Active recall is not writing, highlighting, listening, watching, reading or repeating. Well, part of it is repeating, but writing the same thing over and over again is not the best use of your time.

What to do when using active recall!

Active recall is where you actively recall information from your brain, which, in short, allows it to be transferred into long term memory. Now, after having gone over what not to do, I think we should go over what to do:

  • Use flashcards. Theses are much better than just writing questions because they allow you to write the answer on the back. If you don’t want to use physical flashcards, you could use an app, such Anki, Quizlet or Study Smarter, which all use spaced repetition.
  • Write questions with simpler answers. complicated answers are harder to remember, so only write a few questions with complicated answers.
  • Re-try every question you get wrong. Don’t give up just because you got a question wrong, keep trying until you get it right.
  • Use spaced repetition. This is basically where you leave more time between when you review a question every time you get it right. if you get it wrong, then review it everyday until you get it right. (I may release a post on this soon, so keep your eyes open).

Thank you for reading this post, I hope you learnt something. I post every Wednesday and Sunday, so make sure to keep your eyes open and check to see what I write about next!

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