How Business School Students Can Become Active Learners

How Business School Students Can Become Active Learners

Learning is considered an active activity, rather than one that is passive. For those not familiar with the term ‘passive’, Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “not acting to influence or change a situation; allowing other people to be in control”. Being ‘active’, on the other hand, is being busy with a particular activity, actively trying to engage with it. Throughout business school, students should aim to be active learners in order to process, retain and apply the information presented to them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of passive learning, but with the right knowledge, you can ensure you become as active as possible during your studies and maximise the learning experience. Whether you’re a new student or close to finishing your degree, consider the below to learn how you can better become an active learner.

Active vs passive learning

If a student reads, listens or observes in a passive manner, it can result in information transfer. However, a simple transfer without judgment will not lead to effective learning as all information will be given equal weight. An active learner will engage with the material, conceptualising what it means at the time of acquisition. A passive learner may retain some of the information, but without engaging with it, will struggle to both retain and apply in a practical sense. As such, business school students should aim to be active learners – processing and questioning the information when discussed. The more that you actively engage with the content at the time of learning, the better you will be able to recall and apply in the future.

Preparing for an active study session

The thought of preparing before learning may seem redundant to some students, but it has great value for active learners. Before watching a lecture or presentation, undertaking research or reading new material, you should read the subject guide first and identify the core issues. Regardless of the mode of delivery, a student’s first step should be to distill the information into ‘background’, ‘core’ and ‘supplementary’. Background information provides a foundation for more detailed discussion and will often contextualise the core issues. The core issues are those that must be mastered in order to have a basic level of competency in the subject, and are identified in the student materials for each subject. Lastly, supplementary materials give substance and detail to the core issues.

Listening to a presentation or lecture

When listening to a lecture, presentation or audiobook, the first step should be to take legible notes that highlight the core issues discussed. It’s important not to transcribe the presentation, but instead write down the major points that you are dissecting. If you don’t understand a particular word or concept, make a note of this too. Note taking reinforces active learning, and helps learners stay focused and engaged during the presentation. The difference between active and passive learning in this case, is listening versus hearing. According to Skills You Need, “That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.” Make an extra effort to engage with what the presenter is discussing, and later pursue the different thoughts that came to mind.

Actively reading and comprehending new materials

Reading learning materials is slightly more complex, as different techniques will work for different students. That being said, there are some general tips that will promote active reading for the vast majority of students. This involves two parts – research and reading. As discussed above, active learners should identify the core issues before they begin their learning. This is very applicable for reading, and should be expanded on by skimming the chapter titles and headings, and scanning the article to identify references to the core issues. Then, active readers should read the material one paragraph or sub-topic at a time, allowing time to critically process the information. Readers should underline any words that are not understood, check the meaning of these words, and re-read any sections that you feel were unclear or were perhaps read passively. Finally, you should note down what is stated about the core issues, which will ultimately help you in information retention.

Analyse and critique the information

In business school, a tertiary level of critical analysis is required, so it’s important to consider this while you are learning. This involves two steps – analysis and critique. When analysing the information, identify any omissions, questionable conclusions, assumptions made, or any preconceived ideas of the author/presenter. Then, form critical thought to identify or explore the strengths and weaknesses of the information, compare the material with other sources, and form an opinion. One means of testing your level of comprehension is to try and paraphrase the information using simple English and explain what you’ve learned to someone else. This step will test whether the required level of comprehension has been met, and what still needs to be worked on in an active manner.

What do you think?

Overall, effective studying involves identifying the core requirements, distilling information, understanding the information, making notes, and forming personal opinions on the topic. This is the essence of active learning, and those considered active learners are proficient in all steps. I am keen to hear from students though, how do you approach learning at business school? Share your tips below.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to compile this article: Cambridge Dictionary and Skills You Need


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