Active teaching methods

This page focuses on the element ‘active teaching methods’. It provides a description of the element, highlights its relevance, and provides examples of active teaching methods in the curriculum.


Active teaching methods – this may include problem solving; discussions/debate; team activities; real-world activities (fulfilling a project brief, consultancy); opportunities for students to create; competitions; the pitching of ideas etc.  In short, active teaching methods are any choice of pedagogies that increase active, rather than passive, learning in students.

Relevance for student development, employability and careers

Alongside supporting students’ learning and development, active teaching methods can strengthen a range of non-technical skills valuable to students’ personal and professional development such as communication, presentation skills, teamwork, and creativity.  Active teaching methods often overlap with the ‘real-world/applied learning’ element as they frequently involve students engaging with, and applying, their learning or disciplinary methods.

Quick comment about this element: Research suggests that teaching methods that increase active learning in students also increase performance and student retention.  However, it is important to note that 'classic' or didactic lectures can also be effective and that active teaching methods can be done poorly.  Moreover, the research is currently inconclusive about whether it is beneficial to spend all teaching time in, for instance, ‘flipped classrooms’.  It is therefore important to incorporate this element authentically and enrich your teaching with a range of diverse teaching methods.  However, in the current higher education climate the balance often leans heavily towards 'classic' lectures, providing significant scope to incorporate some of the suggestions below.

Tips and things to consider

Below you will find some key tips and guidance to consider when incorporating active teaching methods.

Active teaching methods can happen in many different ways, but the main goal is to ensure students get time to think and actively work with the material in contrast to passively listening to a lecture.  You can choose to redesign your existing courses with initiatives such as group work, flipped classrooms, experiential learning, student projects, and student co-creation or you can apply some of the principles below to make your students’ learning more active.


Examples of practice in the University of Edinburgh

There is diverse practice across the University that can be used to stimulate thinking about what is possible in your setting. 

Below is a link to a range of relevant practice from the Teaching Matters blog.  The examples come from multiple parts of the student experience and relate either partially or substantially to this element.  New articles are automatically added so check back in the future to discover some of the latest practice.

Teaching Matters: relevant articles


Further reading and external perspectives

The references below provide some background on this element as well as some of the external drivers and motivations for including it.  


These references and research pull on both theoretical and empirical arguments for incorporating more active learning into the curriculum.  The empirical data show positive effects of activities such as flipped classrooms and student participation.  The references also include practical advice and ideas on how to incorporate such practices.