Active learning in engineering education. A review of fundamentals, best practices and experiences

  • Marcela Hernández-de-Menéndez
  • Antonio Vallejo Guevara
  • Juan Carlos Tudón Martínez
  • Diana Hernández Alcántara
  • Ruben Morales-MenendezEmail author
Original Paper


Universities and international organizations are adopting and promoting Active Learning strategies, respectively. Reasons are varied, including that this approach has proven to prepare competitive students who are skilled to address the main problems of society once they enter the labor market. Active Learning is a student-centered-learning approach that involves the learner directly in the process. It consists of letting students be the main actors of the learning process by performing meaningful activities and critically thinking about what they are doing. In this research, a review of Active Learning is performed. The focus is on presenting concepts and practices central to Active Learning that leading universities are deploying, universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University and Aalborg University. Also, the authors describe in this paper a case from their experience with Active Learning techniques in specified areas of engineering education at Tecnologico de Monterrey. Results indicate that this approach supports the development of in-demand competencies such as Teamwork, Problem-solving and Analysis. In addition, students’ performance and retention rates are improved. In the engineering field, students can acquire and practice different technical skills under supervision. Active Learning is a very flexible approach that can be integrated in a gradual manner by any organization. The authors have constructed this research to be a useful guide to Active Learning practices. It can support engineering professors and people interested in knowing or adopting this approach for improving their students’ results.


Active learning Challenge based learning Educational innovation Engineering education Leading universities’ practices 



The authors would like to acknowledge the financial and the technical support of Writing Lab, TecLabs, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico in the production of this work.


  1. 1.
    Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., Wenderoth, M.P.: Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 111(23), 8410–8415 (2014)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine, Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Students’ Diverse Pathways. National Academies Press (2016)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Drew, V., Mackie, L.: Extending the constructs of active learning: implications for teachers’ pedagogy and practice. Curric. J. 22(4), 451–467 (2011)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Senthamarai, S.: Interactive teaching strategies. J. Appl. Adv. Res. 3(1), S36–S38 (2018)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Smith, C.V., Cardaciotto, L.: Is active learning like broccoli? Student perceptions of active learning in large lecture classes. J. Scholarsh. Teach. Learn. 11(1), 53–61 (2011)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Divya, A., Abirami, A., Nisha, A., Raja, L.: Active learning environment for achieving higher-order thinking skills in engineering education. In: IEEE 4th Int Conf on MOOCs, Innovation and Technology in Education, pp. 47–53 (2016)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Graeff, T.R.: Strategic teaching for active learning. Mark. Educ. Rev. 20(3), 265–278 (2010)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Baepler, P., Walker, J.D., Driessen, M.: It’s not about seat time: blending, flipping, and efficiency in active learning classrooms. Comput. Educ. 78, 227–236 (2014)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Erol, M., Özcan, A.: Exemplary technology incorporated contemporary active learning environments for stem courses. In: The Eurasia Proceedings of Educational & Social Sciences, vol. 4, pp. 530–537 (2016)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fisher, K.: Technology-enabled active learning environments: an appraisal. CELE Exch. Cent. Eff. Learn. Environ. 2010(7), 1–8 (2010)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gleason, B.L., Peeters, M.J., Resman-Targoff, B.H., Karr, S., McBane, S., Kelley, K., Thomas, T., Denetclaw, T.H.: An active-learning strategies primer for achieving ability-based educational outcomes. Am. J. Pharm. Educ. 75(9), 186 (2011)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    University of Delaware, Student Participation: Learning About Active Learning. Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning. Accessed 08 Dec 2017
  13. 13.
    Wolff, M., Wagner, M., Poznanski, S., Schiller, J., Santen, S.: Not another boring lecture: engaging learners with active learning techniques. J. Emerg. Med. 48(1), 85–93 (2015)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    De los Ríos, I., Cazorla, A., Díaz-Puente, J., Yagüe, J.: Project-based learning in engineering higher education: two decades of teaching competences in real environments. Procedia Soc. Behav. Sci. 2(2), 1368–1378 (2010)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dolmans, D., Loyens, S., Marcq, H., Gijbels, D.: Deep and surface learning in problem-based learning: a review of the literature. Adv. Heal. Sci. Educ. 21(5), 1087–1112 (2016)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The Glossary of Education Reform. (2016). Accessed 11 Jan 2016
  17. 17.
    Tecnológico de Monterrey. Modelo Educativo TEC21. Personal communication with Dr. Francisco Ayala Aguirre (2018)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Vonderwell, S., Boboc, M.: Promoting formative assessment in online teaching and learning. TechTrends 57(4), 22–28 (2013)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Benson, L., Moss, W., Schiff, S., Biggers, S., Orr, M., Ohland, M.: Special session—enhancing student learning using SCALE-UP format. In: 38th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, pp. 1–2 (2008)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    West Virginia Department of Education. Examples of Formative Assessment. Teach21. Accessed 08 Jan 2018
  21. 21.
    Lee, V.: What is inquiry-guided learning? New Dir. Teach. Learn 2012(129), 5–14 (2012)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Drake, E., Battaglia, D.: Teaching and learning in active learning classrooms. p. 24 (2014)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    SERC at Carleton College. ConcepTests. Starting Point, Teaching Entry Level Geoscience. Accessed 15 Jan 2018
  24. 24.
    Professional Development Service for Teachers. Active Learning Methodologies. DublinGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Prince, M.: Does active learning work? A review of the research. J. Eng. Educ. 93(3), 223–232 (2004)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Chetro-szivos, J., Gray, P.: Creating conversational spaces on campus: connecting students & faculty through appreciative inquiry and circular questioning. J. Student Centered Learn. 2(1), 35–42 (2004)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Jigsaw Classroom. Overview. Accessed 29 Nov 2017
  28. 28.
    Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Active Learning and Adapting Teaching TechniquesGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Implementing Active Learning in Your Classroom. Accessed 26 July 2018
  30. 30.
    Tyler, B.: Active Learning Benefits All Learning Styles: 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Teaching (2003)Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Queen’s University. Why do Active Learning? Accessed 26 July 2018
  32. 32.
    CDIO. Challenges to Designing and Implementing Active and Integrated Learning Experiences. Accessed 26 July 2018
  33. 33.
    Brooks, D.C.: Space matters: the impact of formal learning environments on student learning. Br. J. Educ. Technol. 42(5), 719–726 (2011)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology. TEAL-Technology Enhanced Active Learning. Accessed 01 Dec 2017
  35. 35.
    Dori, Y.J., Belcher, J.: How does technology-enabled active learning affect understanding of electromagnetism concepts? J. Learn. Sci. 14(2), 243–279 (2005)Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Beichner, R.: Chapter 29. North Carolina State University: Scale-Up. EDUCAUSE. Accessed 30 Nov 2017
  37. 37.
    Learning Spaces Collaboratory. An LSC Guide Essay: University of Minnesota. Accessed 08 Dec 2017
  38. 38.
    Whiteside, A., Brooks, C., Walker, J.: Making the Case for Space: Three Years of Empirical Research on Learning Environments. EDUCAUSE Review. (2010). Accessed 08 Dec 2017
  39. 39.
    Harrell, J.W., Jones, S.: Introductory Physics Course Reform at UA—Current Status and Lessons Learned. TuscaloosaGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    The University of Alabama. Studio Physics. Accessed 04 Jan 2018
  41. 41.
    Jones, S.: Engaging Faculty in the Teaching/Learning Process. Forum of Education. Accessed 04 Jan 2018
  42. 42.
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Studio Physics, The Mobile Studio Project in Physics. Accessed 09 Jan 2018
  43. 43.
    Wilson, J.: The Development of the Studio Classroom. Accessed 09 Jan 2018
  44. 44.
    University of Iowa. The TILE Experience. Accessed 09 Jan 2018
  45. 45.
    Florman, J.: TILE at Iowa: adoption and adaptation. New Dir. Teach. Learn. 2014(137), 77–84 (2014)Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Horne, S., Murniati, C., Gaffney, J., Jesse, M.: Promoting active learning in technology-infused TILE classrooms at the University of Iowa. J. Learn. Spaces 1(2) (2012)Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Graaff, E., Kolmos, A.: History of problem-based and project-based learning. In: Graaff, E., Kolmos, A. (eds.) Management of Change. Implementation of Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning in Engineering, no. February. Sense Publishers (2009)Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Shinde, V.V., Kolmos, A.: Students’ experience of Aalborg PBL model: a case study. In: SEFI Annual Conf 2011, pp. 197–204 (2011)Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Askehave, I., Linnemann, H., Pedersen, J., Pedersen, M.: Problem-Based Learning. Aalborg (2015)Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Kolmos, A., Fink, F., Krogh, L.: The Aalborg PBL Model: Progress, Diversity and Challenges. Aalborg University Press, Aalborg (2004)Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Wulf-Andersen, T., Mogensen, K.H., Hjort-Madsen, P.: Researching with undergraduate students: exploring the learning potentials of undergraduate students and researchers collaborating in knowledge production. J. Res. Pract. 9(2), 6 (2013)Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Roskilde University: A Different Experience. Roskilde University, Roskilde (2017)Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    RUC. About the library. Accessed 24 July 2018
  54. 54.
    Roskilde University. Experience Lab RUC (ExLab RUC). Accessed 23 July 2018
  55. 55.
    Bastiaens, E., Nijhuis, J.: From problem-based learning to undergraduate research: the experience of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Counc. Undergradute Res. 32(4), 38–43 (2012)Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Maastricht University. Problem-Based Learning. Accessed 19 July 2018
  57. 57.
    Waniek, I., Nae, N.: Active learning in Japan and Europe. Euromentor J. 8(4), 82–98 (2017)Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Dikboom, M.: Tackling big deals: the experience of Maastricht University. Interlend. Doc. Supply 44(3), 93–96 (2016)Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    The University of Queensland Australia. Andrew Fairbairn. Case Studies for Flipped Classroom. Accessed 20 July 2018
  60. 60.
    The University of Queensland Australia. Learning Spaces. The Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology. Accessed 23 July 2018
  61. 61.
    Tecnologico de Monterrey. TEC21 Model of Education. Accessed 28 Nov 2018
  62. 62.
    Hernández-de-Menéndez, M., Morales-Menendez, R.: Technological innovations and practices in engineering education: a review. Int. J. Interact. Des. Manuf. (in-press) (2019)Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Vivas-López, C., Hernández-Alcantara, D., Tudón, D., Morales-Menendez, R.: Plug and play with a QoV model—a research based learning approach. In: 7th Int Conf on Computer Supported Education, pp. 277–284 (2015)Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Hernández-Alcantara, D., Morales-Menendez, R., Ramírez-Mendoza, R.: Teaching semi-active suspension control using an experimental platform. In: IFAC-American Control Conf, pp. 7334–7339 (2016)Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Morales-Menendez, R., López, T., Ramírez, R., Limón, J., Garza, L.: Drag-and-drop graphical user interface for process control education. In: 115th ASEE Annual Conf and Exposition, pp. 1–15 (2008)Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Hedge, T.: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Technical report, Oxford: OUP (2000)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcela Hernández-de-Menéndez
    • 1
  • Antonio Vallejo Guevara
    • 1
  • Juan Carlos Tudón Martínez
    • 1
  • Diana Hernández Alcántara
    • 1
  • Ruben Morales-Menendez
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Escuela de Ingeniería y Ciencias, Tecnologico de MonterreyMonterreyMexico

Personalised recommendations