Key Points Overview

These are the key points of Active Learning: active participation, repetition of opportunities, developmentally appropriate, reinforcing to the individual, and limited distractions.

Understanding and remembering the Key Points of Active Learning is important when working with a child. You may want to download this poster created by Shay Utley, COMS, from Mansfield ISD to post in your room. Active Learning posters by Shay Utley, COMS

Key Points of Active Learning poster

Active Participation

The individual initiates some actions without prompting (verbal or physical) from the adult. By self-initiated activity the learner is developing neural connections and memories that may not be established by having an adult manipulate his/her body. Let the learner determine when and how to act on an object or make contact and engage with the adult. In whatever ways possible allow the learner to be an active participant in the world around him/her. Use the natural movements or responses of the learner, and turn them into purposeful movement. If the learner is not actively participating, change something.

Repetition of Opportunities

A toddler plays with an adult stacking plates and containers to knock down.
A toddler plays with an adult stacking plates and containers to knock down.

Practice makes perfect! This is critical to learning for anyone because repetition creates and strengthens neural connections in the brain.  Provide plenty opportunities (thousands and thousands) for the learner to practice a skill so that it becomes part of the individual’s personality. The more “automatic” a skill becomes the less energy it takes for the learner to use that skill and the more likely he/she will use it in many different situations and environments. Remember the learner must initiate the movement, so co-active movement with the adult may not accomplish the same growth of skills. Let the child have time to process what they are learning from their movement; this may look like the child is taking a short break. Give the learner opportunities to practice a particular skill with a variety of materials. You should have multiples of objects and varieties of the same object to allow the child to generalize learning. Children learn at different rates; some children may take much longer than others to make a skill something that can be automatic.

Developmentally Appropriate

Skills develop in a fairly predictable order.  For example, you can’t throw a ball until you have the ability to pick it up.  You can’t pick it up until you can coordinate the movement of your fingers.  In Active Learning it is important to understand the developmental sequence of skills and provide activities that require skills the learner has.  This way the individual will feel success and use that skill to learn something new. Higher level skills will develop naturally as foundational skills solidify. Always offer activities at the child’s developmental level; you may adapt with materials to make the activity age appropriate. Slowly provide new experience to foster growth. Using hand-over-hand to “show” a child how to do something should be avoided!

Reinforcing to the Individual

 None of us will do things that we do not feel benefit us in some way.  In other words, we need motivation.  This is true for any individual.  Our role as the adults working with the learner is to figure out what is motivating for the individual.  For the sensorimotor learner, we need to determine which of the learning pathways (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, or movement) provide the most usable information for the learner.  We also need to make learning fun and interesting!

A young girl plays in a sand table with things that she can practice pouring and scooping.
A young girl plays in a sand table with things that she can practice pouring and scooping.

Limited Distractions

When anyone is trying to learn something new, distractions work against the process.  For example, have you ever tried to learn a new computer program and people won’t stop talking or asking you questions? If you are like most people, you probably had a hard time learning what you needed to until they left you alone.

If we interrupt a learner’s exploration and experimentation by telling the individual he/she is doing a good job or trying to show the individual what he/she can do, we interrupt the learning. We need to minimize distractions as much as possible for all learners, recognizing that we can probably not eliminate them entirely.  This includes making sure a learner is not hungry, tired, or wet.  That the room is not too hot, too cold, too overstimulating, too under-stimulating. We also need to keep in mind that a learner’s tolerance for distractions can vary from day to day or moment to moment.

We must limit our comments to times when a learner takes a little break from what he/she is doing and is paying attention to us. Then make comments pertinent to the learner’s activities and keep the language simple. We also need to use appropriate educational treatments with the learner when we engage in adult-child learning activities. (See the Five Phases of Educational Treatment.) We also need to communicate in ways that are meaningful to the child; this includes gestures, vocalizations, tactual signals, signs, symbols and simple words. Remember to keep your comments short and simple highlighting the most critical ideas.

Listen to Patty Obrzut, Assistant Director at Penrickton Center for Blind Children talk about the Five Key points of Active Learning.

What is Active Learning? 5 Key Points

Description: Patty Obrzut, Assistant Director of Penrickton Center for Blind Children describes the five key points of Active Learning.



Coffee Hour Discussion:  Active Learning – May 18, 2020

A one-hour online presentation focusing on Key Points to Implement Active Learning Strategies by Scott Baltisberger, Patty Obrzut, Jessica McCavit, Kate Hurst, and Charlotte Cushman.  (Please note that this is not being offered for credit.)

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5 key points of Active Learning