25 JANUARY, 2023


No matter your industry, there’s no doubt it’s being affected by the monumental advances happening across technology, AI, automation and beyond. So how do you build an adaptive, intelligent workforce that can roll, and even thrive, with the changes? You find and nurture active learners. Read on to explore why active learning is key for future-ready organisations and how you can nurture this in your own workforce.

What is active learning?

Active learning is a learning activity in which employees actively participate or interact with the learning process, rather than just passively taking in information. Active learning can also be referred to as experiential learning, as both terms reflect the value in learning through action.

How does active learning work? Some examples of active learning

You can think of active learning as any method where learners can immediately engage with, reflect on and/or apply the knowledge they’re gaining. This can encompass a vast variety of learning styles and methods, including:

  • Quizzes or tests, carried out at any point in a lesson to reinforce key points and correct any early misunderstandings.
  • Group discussions, where the relevant concepts and context can be explored together.
  • Interactive lessons, where learners may be asked to extrapolate on a concept, share their reaction to the information, debate positions or check their knowledge.
  • Case studies, where the information can be applied and explored in a real-world scenario.

Other examples of active learning can include:

  • Watching a demo and then physically practising the skill.
  • Conducting additional research and taking notes.
  • Networking with professionals in that skill field.
  • Practising or applying what was learned on the job.
  • Analysing or evaluating information.
  • Identifying and solving related problems.
  • Exploring concepts and related challenges in work teams.

These types of learning styles can be highly effective. So why does active learning work? Because it can help a learner to apply new information to their existing knowledge base, add context, clarify any uncertainties and activate new neural pathways, for a lesson that’s better retained. Active learning is learning that sticks.

Why is active learning important in the workplace?

There are a multitude of benefits of active learning in the workplace. Not only can a more engaging learning style support an employee in terms of their skill and career development, but it can also benefit the organisation in a number of different ways. Here are some of the reasons active learning can be so broadly valuable.

Theory becomes practice

Theoretical information is all very well, but everyone gains when this can be converted into useful capabilities instead. Learners can shift ideas into skills by integrating new and existing information, putting the new lesson into practice, and problem solving using new insights.

Feedback is immediate

Because it’s so often a two-way process, active learning offers the opportunity for regular and rapid feedback. Questions can be asked to deepen understanding, and any misunderstandings can be cleared up. Leaders and managers can also maintain a clearer picture of who knows what in the organisation, making it much easier to address any skill gaps.

Active learning delivers long-term value

Active learning can support greater long-term retention and recall of information. To provide just one example, a study from the US showed that a team retained safety information better after one month when the information was taught through active learning strategies. Because it’s more effective, active learning is also a more efficient use of L&D resources.

Employee engagement is a side benefit

The interactive nature of active learning means that employees can feel better supported in their professional development as well as better recognised in their workplace. These are both key drivers of employee engagement, which can in turn improve employee retention and performance.

Continual development becomes natural

An active learner can find it easier to upskill and retrain as time goes on. They can make the most of their digital learning skills and embrace new learning opportunities with enthusiasm. This helps both the employee and organisation to stay up-to-date with changing technologies and business needs, and face new challenges with confidence.

Successful active learning is driven both by employee and employer, so it pays to consider both sides of this equation.

How to identify and encourage active learners

It’s clearly better to find and support employees who are actively engaged with their learning than those who need to be guided every step of the way. But how do you find these candidates in the first place – and then how do you build an active learning culture? Here are some of the ways you can identify and support active learners.

Seek evidence for active learning in applications

Applications can be a great place to spot active learners. You could explicitly ask for examples where applicants have driven their own learning, and look out for keywords relating to perseverance or the desire to learn interactively. Such keywords could include:

  • I did some benchmarking.
  • I have an intellectual curiosity.
  • I carried out literature surveys.
  • I can learn new things quickly.
  • I have a passion for learning.
  • I sought the help of experts.

Give applicants an assessment to complete

A recruitment assessment can be an ideal opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their active learning skills and capacity to learn on the job. This type of assessment could include a problem-solving task or another way to learn and apply some new information. You could either ask applicants to outline the steps they took to learn the information, or monitor how this takes place.

Tease out active learning during interviews

You can use interviews to ask both behavioural and situational interview questions. Behavioural questions might include:

  • Please share something you have learned on the job and then applied to subsequent tasks and experiences.
  • Walk us through the steps of how you’d quickly become knowledgeable if you were given an assignment in a new area where there’s little easy-to-find information.
  • What specific sources would you use to find information in this area (e.g. For an advanced technical area) and why are these sources superior?
  • What do you know about our organisation, products, services, competitors, and job?
  • Give us a recent example of how you’ve remained on the leading edge of learning in your current job. Did the information you gather actually have a business impact?
  • Do you currently have a personal learning plan, how did you develop it, what are its key components, and how do you use it?

On the other hand, situational interview questions place candidates in hypothetical situations that can help you determine how they’ll best approach a problem and prevent future problems. For example:

  • If there’s something you don’t know how to do on the job, what would your next course of action be?
  • escribe your learning process. If you discover a mistake in your work, how would you approach the mistake, fix it, and prevent it from happening again?

Additionally, you can ask the following overt questions to help identify an active learner:

  • List the learning targets you would have during the first month on the job.
  • What are your top five capabilities?
  • How would you rate your active learning ability on a scale of 1 to 10?

Checking in with candidates’ references can also help to verify self-assessed capabilities and highlight successful active learners.

Develop training activities with shorter learning cycles

Less can sometimes be more when it comes to internal learning and development. Using shorter learning cycles minimises learner fatigue and boredom, and helps to maintain a focus on the ‘why’ of learning new information. Aim to keep learning opportunities concise, clear and relevant.

Give employees problem-solving opportunities

If you’re presenting new information to employees, you can encourage the immediate synthesis and application of this information by setting problem-solving tasks. These might be in the form of case-based learning, role plays or the provision of sample datasets, where employees can practice that fresh knowledge right away.

Provide opportunities to present to the team

Teaching can be the ultimate test of understanding a concept or skill, and it can also help with information recall and application. By encouraging regular information-sharing events in the workplace, you can help support active learning both for the instructor and for attendees.

Start training your workplace for the future

As you can see, there are several ways you can identify and support active learners in your organisation to encourage highly engaged upskilling on an ongoing basis. DeakinCo.’s unique workplace training solutions can help you build the most essential workplace skills for now and the future. Find out more about what our services can do for you by contacting us today.