Blog Articles

Active Learning Tools for the STEM Classroom

Alyson Aiello
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

How do you incorporate active learning tools in chemistry or biology that will truly move the needle for your students when it comes to STEM education? In this blog post, we take a closer look at active learning, what researchers and educators have to say about its importance in the STEM classroom, and how using virtual labs as one of your active learning tools can improve student outcomes.

What is the definition of active learning?

Active learning occurs when students engage with educational materials through action-based methods such as group work, hands-on projects and problem-solving activities—as opposed to passive or transmission activities like reading, listening to a lecture or watching a video demonstration.

The term “active learning” was first used by Charles Bonwell and James Eison in their 1991 book, “Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom,” in which they posited that active learning nurtured critical thinking skills. Active learning tools, therefore, encourage students to connect with materials on a personal level and then apply what they're learning to the world around them. As a result, students develop critical thinking and curiosity, both of which are central to STEM education and professional success in STEM.

What will active learning look like in the new STEM classroom?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a robust online library of active learning tools for STEM was a nice-to-have. Now, it’s a must-have. Students have had a taste of what technology can provide — content that connects more meaningfully with visual learners and platforms that speak the language of “digital native” students who have grown up in the Digital Age. But the goal for STEM educators remains the same: to leverage active learning tools that create curious learners and inspire a new generation of scientists.

The classroom of the future will likely be a blended classroom that leverages online learning and invaluable in-person learning experiences. Educational technology will support both approaches. It will also help drive diversity and inclusion in STEM education, providing more students with:

  • Access to course resources

  • Flexibility to study according to their own schedules

  • Experiential learning opportunities that don’t come with added costs

Virtual labs, such as our 200+ library of simulations across biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and more, promote active learning and support educators' goals to achieve diversity in STEM.

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How do virtual labs promote active learning?

Labster virtual labs for chemistry, biology and other core STEM courses feature a number of elements that are important for achieving active learning, including:

  • Self-directed learning that encourages students to make decisions

  • Case-based learning that presents students with real-world scenarios to navigate

  • Game-based features that stimulate engagement and motivation 

Together, these elements support more than just learning concepts and principles— they strengthen scientific inquiry.

Selinda Martinez, a biology instructor at Laredo College in Texas, uses Labster virtual lab simulations in her general biology courses for both major and non-major students. She says Labster virtual simulations allow her students to experience scientific research in a way that passive or transmission learning cannot. 

Martinez attributes this benefit primarily to the case-based elements, or storytelling aspects, of Labster virtual lab simulations. Each Labster simulation presents a real-world scenario and a scientific problem for the student to solve.

“Students can explore different avenues, and get the feel for doing research,” she says. “They get the aspect of scientific inquiry.”

For those who pursue STEM careers, that may translate into having a leg up.

Active learning tools and career readiness

Instructors and administrators in higher education are thinking about how they’re preparing students to complete their studies and enter STEM careers. Active learning tools, when implemented strategically in science curriculums, might help students develop the skills they need to meet the demands of the modern workforce.

In a study that looked at gamification and active learning in higher education (Murillo-Zamorano, L.R., López Sánchez, J.Á., Godoy-Caballero, A.L. et al. 2021), researchers looked at the influence of an active learning set up according to the standard elements of gamification. The results showed that “gamification favors the development of skills demanded by the current workplace.”

Additionally, Murillo-Zamorano et al. wrote, “Our results provide statistically significant empirical evidence, concluding that the generation of a co-creative and empowered gameful experience that supports students' overall value creation yields to satisfactory active learning setups without any loss of academic achievement, and allowing to develop a series of skills especially relevant for twenty-first century professionals."

How can Labster promote active learning in your STEM courses?

The potential to position students for success with the use of active learning tools, like virtual lab simulations, and to open up the world of STEM education to more students is significant. As educators continue to embrace educational technology across blended, flipped and in-person learning, the virtual classroom will continue to expand in exciting ways. Labster will be there to expand with it.

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • Unmatched immersive virtual labs that students will enjoy

  • Regular new releases of relevant virtual labs, including long-form and short-form, across all core fields of STEM study

  • Supplemental science resources to support courses and lab learning, like 3D animations, images, lab manuals, quizzes and more

  • Growing library of multi-language virtual labs for English, Spanish, German, French and Italian-speaking learners

  • Advances in accessibility to meet the needs of every student

Interested in exploring Labster virtual labs as you consider active learning tools for your STEM courses? Take a product tour today and let us know what you think.

References

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, Washington DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University.

Murillo-Zamorano, L.R., López Sánchez, J.Á., Godoy-Caballero, A.L. et al. Gamification and active learning in higher education: is it possible to match digital society, academia and students' interests?. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 18, 15 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-021-00249-y

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