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Active Learning for Library Instruction

This guide provides (1) resources for designing effective active learning lesson plans for information literacy instruction; (2) an overview of Online Learning Tools for creating active learning exercises; and (3) also lesson plans for IL outcomes.

Active Learning

Active learning is one of the most important elements of effective information literacy instruction. In practice, active learning represents a shift from thinking about instruction in terms of the lecture or presentation by the librarian, and a move toward planning activities for students to do during the session.

The reasoning behind this shift is fairly straightforward: learning is only possible with active participation on the part of the learner. For something to be learned, it must go into a person's working memory in order for it to be stored in their long-term memory for later use, application, and transfer. Consequently, learning requires participation of a specific kind: active cognitive engagement from a learner's brain. Therefore, broadly construed we might say that the goal of active learning is meaningful cognitive engagement on the part of the learner in relation to the learning goals set by the facilitator of learning. 

In order to maximize the opportunity for active learning to take place, library instructors can facilitate activities for students to do during (or prior to) a session that put into practice the skills targeted in the learning outcomes for the session. 

A short rule of thumb: Instructors can always ask what two or three research skills do I want students to be able to do as the result of this session?

These are your learning outcomes and the skills students can practice during your session. 

This presentation by USC Librarians on "An Introduction to Active Learning for Information Literacy" breaks down these ideas and their application in more detail, and provides specific guidelines for how to create outcomes for active learning for information literacy. 

Designing Lessons for Active Learning

It can be helpful to think of library instruction sessions as facilitating conversations. You want to scaffold and work up towards challenging and thoughtful questions. Building in various participation and share out methods can increase learner engagement with information literacy concepts and reduce anxiety around speaking up in class.

  • Lesson-Planning Using Backwards Design: Backwards design is is a learner-centered instructional design approach to lesson-planning where we first decide what we want students to be able to do in a session, and craft our learning outcomes and lesson plan around these concrete learning goals. It helps organize our sessions and make sure we establish clear, measurable learning goals for students. Instructors can use this backwards design lesson planning template created specifically for information literacy instruction to plan their session.
  • Problem-Based Learning: Problem-based learning  (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning. For information literacy instruction, we recommend as a best practice treating the student's research assignment and where they are currently at in the research process as the problem context for the session. 
  • Mini-Lessons: A workshop based-approach where instructors present a short "mini-lesson" and students then practice the core principles of the mini-lesson in an instructor-designed active learning activity. Adapted from writing workshops, this model lends itself naturally to information literacy workshops can be paired with any learning outcome (including searching). It helps learning and engagement to break the session up into small, manageable chunks, where students can practice the lesson's core ideas and get instructor feedback in real time. 
  • Instructional Design Infographics for Information Literacy: This page contains multiple infographics on research-based strategies from the education literature and their application to the information literacy instructional context.
  • Think-Pair-Share: an engagement technique where students are given time to think, discuss their ideas with a neighbor, and then share their discussions with the larger class.

Lesson Plans for Active Learning in Information Literacy Instruction