From Teaching to Learning - The Advantages of Passive vs. Active Learning Strategies

Passive Learning is the mode of learning most commonly present in classrooms. Specialties Educators Article

Passive learning

Occurs when students use their senses to take in information from a lecture, reading assignment, or audiovisual. It is used to acquire ideas and information that is available for recall.


  1. Can present a great deal of information in a short period of time.
  2. Lecture notes, handouts, and audiovisual media can be selected and prepared in advance.
  3. Controlled environment (faculty more comfortable).
  4. Good for new faculty member or one who is teaching new content.
  5. Students most often prefer this approach (they are used to this method of teaching).
  6. Important concepts and content identified a concrete, organized, and meaningful manner.
  7. Students have lower anxiety levels and feel more secure with this method.


  1. Little opportunity to assess how well students are learning the content.
  2. Little time for questions, clarification, or discussion.
  3. Students may not feel comfortable letting faculty know that they do not understand key concepts, they are reluctant to ask questions in class, or they may not ask enough questions to clarify their misunderstandings.
  4. Does not require consistent use of higher-level cognitive skills (no opportunity for application).
  5. May become tedious and boring.

Active learning

Involves the student through participation and investment of energy in all three phases of the learning process (input, operations, and feedback). This type of learning is more apt to stimulate higher cognitive processes and critical thinking.


  1. May increase critical thinking skills in students.
  2. Enables students to show initiative.
  3. Involves students by stimulating them to talk more.
  4. Incorporates more student input and ideas.
  5. Easier to assess student learning.
  6. Better meets the needs of students with varying learning styles.


  1. Faculty need to be expert in the content area.
  2. May be difficult to organize active learning experiences.
  3. Requires more time and energy and may be stressful for faculty.
  4. Faculty may receive less favorable evaluations from students.
  5. Students may be stressed because of the necessity to adapt to new ways of learning.

More about active learning strategies later. Stay tuned!


Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J. (1995, November/ December). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change Magazine, 13-25.

Hewlette, C., & King, L. (2004). A recipe for introducing student-based learning into your classroom. Craven Community College.

Jeffries, P.R., & Norton, B. (2005). Selecting learning experiences to achieve curriculum outcomes. In D.M. Billings & J.A. Halstead (Eds.), Teaching in nursing: A Guide for faculty (2nd ed., pp. 187-212). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders.


How have you incorporated affective learning into your classroom? I think this is one domain of learning that is often neglected or difficult to achieve. I know I have been working hard at bringing this area of learning into the classroom setting..

Specializes in OB, HH, ADMIN, IC, ED, QI.
Great post, zsuzan! Variety is truly the spice of life and really adds to a positive learning experience in the classroom. I will have close to 140 students in my classroom next semester. I am currently investigating active learning strategies that work best in large classrooms.

I certainly hope you will divide the class into small groups for discussion, or different aspects of the subject; and have teaching assistants with each one. Otherwise, it will be difficult for your class to absorb the information given them in any format.

thanks for a great reminder! i am an auditory and sequential learner so if you can just tell me, in the correct order, i get it. as a certified healthcare instructor, i am often challenged to integrate both learning styles due to time constraints in our short programs. we provide exam preparation to allied healthcare workers who are 'qualified professionals' via experience or schooling. in as little as two days these participants can obtain national certification in workshop formatted training programs. training has to be balanced to include the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and diverse enough to reach adults of all ages and cultures. i believe our success depends greatly on the advantages of the two learning styles.

I really like how you talked about passive vs active learning. I believe much more in active learning vs. passive but it probably isn't possible to have every single class to be only active learning. THere has to be passive learning to try to show what is important and the info that needs to be covered that may be on the NCLEX. However i think that the active listening is much more beneficial to the new nurses that can assess what they know and their critical thinking skills. I would rather have an B/C student working with me that knows how to think critically vs an A student who has every definition memorized with no critical thinking skills.

Specializes in OB/GYN, Oncology, Hospice.

My nursing classes were always "taught" in the active learning style. You have to effectively reach students with different types of learning styles (auditory, tactile, visual) and the active approach gives everyone a chance to not just understand the concepts but remember them.

Many of us are visual learners and active learning in school will be a great boost to understanding material. Active learning is first day teaching us nursing concepts (ADPIE, ABC) and continuously point these concepts out while we discuss in lecture will help a lot because of repetition. My nursing program had a method to select students for the program. We had an entrance exam, pre-lvn class, interview, then acceptance letter. The problem was we learned ADPIE in the pre-lvn class not in clinical application problem solving but in facts. again the teacher did not emphasize that this concept will be with you in the nursing program. I thought it was a memorize then dump out of brain. You get to nursing school with books that teachers again may not explain how to read it properly and what we need to look for in the first stages. I understand not to be spoon fed, however, we are in training wheels learning how to ride a bike. Another analogy crawl before you walk? Nursing schools lectures present too much material and maybe if content was in an organized structure to find patterns of big concepts and break it down step by step not just for nclex prep but for the real world as well. If nursing programs can start using technology for prior lecture preparation for students to focus on before class discussion to save time and to focus more on clinical application and role playing during class time. the more interactive the better :)

Have more field trips like we learn about a disease see if there is a community service that is discussing the disease we are learning. it may be a lot to do but the more we see material in different ways the better for prep in the real world. Nclex is test taking strategies that should be presented first day with ADPIE and ABC