A formula for active learning: hands-on + minds-on (Harry's Story) Faculty Story - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 01/10/2019

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A formula for active learning: hands-on + minds-on (Harry's Story)


Active learning is not so much about being physically active but more about being cognitively active. Dr Harry Kanasa embeds active learning in his lessons by having students analyse, evaluate and synthesise new ideas and concepts in novel contexts.

See the full faculty story here


The challenge with active learning is to keep in mind that it doesn't refer only to physical activity, but also, and primarily, to mental activity. It is very effective for students to be physically engaged when learning, which we see especially with young children, but is also valuable for learners of all ages. When people are moving while learning it helps to integrate knowledge, and it is this integration, the mental activity, that makes this learning so powerful.

Harry has noted that:

'different problems need different methods for solution' and the more ways we have to approach a problem, active ways, on our own, or in collaborating with others, the more effective and successful we will be at solving those problems.

Through this use of active learning to address this challenge, Harry inspires pre-service teachers to become the educators of the future.


Be inspired by Harry's approach in the following video, which is a part of his comprehensive faculty story.

'In my Math curriculum classes we use various methods for them to manipulate and make sense of numbers, together with the concepts of action that are part of using numbers. For example, with addition and subtraction to begin with, using physical objects that they move about to illustrate for themselves the mathematical concepts. In this case, the mental activity is being matched by the physical activity.'

But it is also possible to conflate the two; to mistake physical movement as evidence of mental activity. With adult learners, our students, there are fewer opportunities to activate learning in both a physical and cognitive way.

The key is to keep in mind the imperative that underlies what we are teaching and what we are enabling our students to learn. Learning must be purposeful, so to ensure that it is purposefully active, there must be intentional design behind it. Active learning can be found in just moving the body when solving a problem, for example, asking students to move to re-group to discuss something. This gives students both a physical and a cognitive break to reflect as they move from one position to another. But it can also be found in seeking alternate cognitive based methods to solve that problem, as in collaborative discussion and representation of knowledge and understanding visually, with mind maps, for example.

See the full faculty story here

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Preferred Citation

Kanasa, H., and Learning Futures (2019). A formula for active learning: hands-on + minds-on (Harry's Story). Retrieved from https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/exlnt/entry/3685/view