Active Verbs to Frame Learning

When working and learning in classrooms in which the educator attempts to make the tasks authentic (or as authentic as is reasonable given the constraints that limit any classroom), the students will be engaged in active learning. They will be interacting with others as they work with and create information in a manner that is unusual in the traditional and passive classrooms created following the 20th century recitation script. Several scholars have described the nature of information tasks that will become common with the transition to authentic learning environments.

Richard Mayer (2001), a psychologist form the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggested that students who are actively engaged in learning will be selecting, organizing, integrating, comparing, generalizing, and classifying information to solve a problem. Mayer is among the scholars who conclude that these skills were important in print-dominated classrooms but they take on additional importance and they change in nature when learners gain access to vast information sources via the Internet. Selecting information has become more complicated as more and more types of information can be accessed by students, and users must attend to the details so that they can identify the source of and the credibility of information they consume. In authentic learning settings, organizing information requires learners to place the information in the structure of the discipline that has been included in the scaffold provided by the educator or the expert. Integrating information requires the learners to find connections; cognitive scientists have discovered that building connections between new information and existing understanding is necessary for learning, and the more opportunities for finding connection, the more likely the information is to be learned. Comparing information requires the learners to evaluate the information in light of other information and reconcile differences when finding connections. Generalizing information requires the learner to justify conclusions based in information and to find common themes between different but similar information. Classifying requires learners to find common elements or type-information to categorize information.

Bertram Bruce and James Levin, education researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggested several varieties of ICT-rich active learning exist (1997). Inquiry is active learning that requires students to build and test theories. Testing theory requires students to access, collect, and analyze information and those are processes that can be facilitated using ICT. Active communication in ICT-rich learning environments necessitates learners prepare documents to express new understanding; ICT provides many options for active communication using words and graphics in various media in both isolated and social environments. Leaders at North Carolina State University also defined similar skills when they included problem-solving, empirical inquiry, research from sources, and performance in their plans for creating an ICT-rich university (Margolis 2004).

The nature of the active learning necessary for authentic learning is fundamentally different from the higher-order and lower-order thinking skills that informed 20th century curriculum and instruction. With the modifiers “higher” and “lower,” advocates implied that the lower skills were prerequisites for the higher skills, and that hierarchy could be used to justify decisions to require lower skills be mastered before progressing to higher skills. Cognitive and learning scientists are finding such decisions are not supported by evidence. Active learning skills are those that can be undertaken by students with broad skill; there is no threshold below which the active learning cannot be practiced and there is no ceiling limiting the practice of active learning. Further, active learning skills can be developed in and applied to problems from any field of study. In that nature, active learning is similar to the scholarly primitives (discovering, annotating, comparing, referring, sampling, illustrating, and representing) defined by John Unsworth (2000). Because active learning is fundamentally aligned with the natural phenomena of human learning, all student tasks in the 21st century should be authentic and active; reserving such learning those for enrichment or for preferred populations is not a tenable pedagogy.


Bruce, Bertram and James Levin. 1997. “Educational Technology: Media for Inquiry Communication, Construction, and Expression.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 17(1): 79-102.

Margolis, Nancy. 2004. LITE: Learning in a Technology-Rich Environment: A Quality Enhancement lan for North Carolina State University. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina State University. Accessed March 10, 2019,

Mayer, Richard. 2001. Multimedia Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Unsworth, John. 2000. “Scholarly Primitives: What Methods do Humanities Researchers Have in Common, and How Might Our Tools Reflect This?” Paper presented at the Symposium Humanities Computing: Formal Methods, Experimental Practice, King’s College, London, May 13, 2000. Accessed March 10, 2019,