What is Active Learning?


Tips for designing and managing an active classroom


Converting to Online Teaching
A series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions

By John Cable, Director

Project Management Center for Excellence
A. James Clark School of Engineering
University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland, USA

In September 2020, we published an article promoting Blended Learning[1] as our recommended approach to structuring a course. Blended Learning combines the best aspects of both classroom and online learning, and our version incorporates a flipped classroom approach. All course content is designed and posted on a learning management system (LMS) and students review the content and complete any assignments prior to participating in a synchronous class. The class meeting with the instructor could be either in person or online or could switch between the two seamlessly.

Simply stated, instructors assign various asynchronous activities for learners to complete before class (lecture videos, assignments {reading, problems, essays}, team projects, group discussions, knowledge checks, etc.). Actual “class time” with the instructor is dedicated as an active learning environment that applies the concepts in the material for the week and can be either in person or virtual, it does not matter which since many video conferencing platforms accommodate breakout groups and simulate group meetings just like you would do in an actual face-to-face classroom.

So, what is Active Learning? It is an instructional approach that actively engages students in the learning material through a variety of different approaches such as problem-solving activities, writing assignments, group discussions, reflection activities, projects, teamwork, and any other task which promotes critical thinking about the subject. Active learning is learner-centered and requires that students actively engage in the learning materials to develop the skills more fully. To quote Eric Mazur[2] from Harvard “in some instances, we must teach the student to engage in self-learning”. The students must own their education and take responsibility for it!

This is a substantial shift from traditional classroom teaching models where the instructor lectures and provides information which the students dutifully record (passive learning). Active learning shifts the focus of learning the materials to the learner. It uses all three learning-style preferences: visual, auditory, and particularly kinesthetic.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles by the Director of the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence provides information and advice for converting from traditional in-person classes to online teaching, based on their experience before and during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.

How to cite this paper: Cable, J. H. (2021). Converting to Online Teaching: A series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions – What is Active Learning? Tips for designing and managing an active classroom, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/pmwj107-Jul2021-Cable-what-is-active-learning2-1.pdf

 About the Author

John Cable

Director, Project Management Center for Excellence
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


 John Cable is Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A.James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he is also a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offers masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. With more than 1,300 seats filled annually with students from many countries, including more than 40 PhD students, the program is the largest graduate program in project management at a major university in the United States.

John Cable served in the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy in 1980, where he was involved with developing energy standards for buildings, methods for measuring energy consumption, and managing primary research in energy conservation.  As an architect and builder, Mr. Cable founded and led John Cable Associates in 1984, a design build firm. In 1999 he was recruited by the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to create and manage a graduate program in project management. In his role as founder and director of the Project Management Center for Excellence at Maryland, the program has grown to offer an undergraduate minor, master’s degrees, and a doctoral program. Information about the Project Management Center for Project Management at the University of Maryland can be found at www.pm.umd.edu.

In 2002, PMI formed the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs (GAC).  Mr. Cable was appointed to that inaugural board where he served as vice chair.  In 2006, he was elected as chairman, a role he held through 2012.  As Chair of the PMI GAC, John led the accreditation of 86 project management educational programs at 40 institutions in 15 countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia Pacific Region. John was awarded PMI’s 2012 Distinguished Contribution Award for his leadership at the GAC.  He can be contacted at jcable@umd.edu.

To view other works by John Cable, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-cable/

[1] Cable, J. H. (2020). Converting to Online Teaching: A Series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions – Blended Learning Classroom Guidance, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue IX, September

[2]   https://www.physics.harvard.edu/people/facpages/mazur