Those who have gone online to be educated may have had a unique opportunity to identify and observe active and passive students. Experiences may have been a bit different from their high school days, or those of people in traditional college campus classrooms. But some characteristics of active and passive students do not change regardless of the classroom setting.
Online or in a campus classroom, instructors and students rarely read or hear an opinion openly expressed or hear a peep out of passive students. In the campus classroom setting when they are called on by the teacher or instructor, they usually have no answers. These students are there, and possibly absorbing the material, but they appear to be uninvolved with the learning process and prefer being quiet. They spend time in the classroom because they have to, but it is very difficult to tell if any actual learning is going on. These students are missing the opportunity to fully engage themselves in the learning process.
By contrast, active students are fully involved and participatory. Their excitement about the material is evident. They have overcome whatever inhibitions may have existed that would have played a role keeping them passive in the classroom, and have really done their homework. They are not afraid to ask questions to gain more understanding. They are confident enough to put forth opinions and ideas or initiate provocative discussions. By completing both reading and writing assignments, they have gained enough information and confidence to participate in discussions and classroom activities. Proper management of their time allows them to complete their assignments on time, so they have confidence that they can participate successfully.
Online, it is really not a much different situation. The students who are active in the virtual classroom have obviously done their homework and learned the material. Their message board posts for discussion questions are well-written and thoughtful. They complete their assignments early in week, and it is apparent that they are giving their best effort. Many times, they’ve researched a subject for even more information than can be obtained from their text books alone. They not only ask questions of the instructor, but they question and discuss the views and opinions of their fellow classmates.
The online students who turn in assignments just under the wire and sometimes late have usually procrastinated. It is also apparent that their class discussions are lacking substance or have not been thoroughly researched. Many times, their answers to discussion questions are biased, not completely informed, or simply wrong. After the first week, these students begin to stand out – not for their achievements, but for their passivity and apathy toward the subject and perhaps toward gleaning further knowledge.
Becoming an active student, whether in a high school classroom, on a college campus, or in the online environment involves total involvement with the rest of the class, with the educational materials, and with the teacher or instructor through adequate study of the material, questioning, exams, and discussion. It requires critical thinking skills that can be developed early on, while still in the early teen years. Students at any age and in any learning environment need dedication to the process of learning and the desire to become a contributing presence among the group. It means completing assignments and doing the best work they can possibly do. The self-confidence gained from learning the material well can and will go a long way to help a student be involved and active in the classroom.
Abandoning passive learning for the excitement and challenge of active learning is not at all impossible. Passive students must emulate their enthusiastic peers and put forth the effort despite fear of rejection or failure. Students of any age, regardless of past learning efforts or habits, can gradually transition from being passive and uninvolved to being an outstanding and politely outspoken student in any learning environment.