Strategies to mitigate student resistance to active learning

Sneha Tharayil, Maura Borrego, Michael Prince, Kevin A. Nguyen, Prateek Shekhar, Cynthia J. Finelli, Cynthia Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


Background: Research has shown that active learning promotes student learning and increases retention rates of STEM undergraduates. Yet, instructors are reluctant to change their teaching approaches for several reasons, including a fear of student resistance to active learning. This paper addresses this issue by building on our prior work which demonstrates that certain instructor strategies can positively influence student responses to active learning. We present an analysis of interview data from 17 engineering professors across the USA about the ways they use strategies to reduce student resistance to active learning in their undergraduate engineering courses. Results: Our data reveal that instructor strategies for reducing student resistance generally fall within two broad types: explanation and facilitation strategies. Explanation strategies consist of the following: (a) explain the purpose, (b) explain course expectations, and (c) explain activity expectations. Facilitation strategies include the following: (a) approach non-participants, (b) assume an encouraging demeanor, (c) grade on participation, (d) walk around the room, (e) invite questions, (f) develop a routine, (g) design activities for participation, and (h) use incremental steps. Four of the strategies emerged from our analysis and were previously unstudied in the context of student resistance. Conclusions: The findings of this study have practical implications for instructors wishing to implement active learning. There is a variety of strategies to reduce student resistance to active learning, and there are multiple successful ways to implement the strategies. Importantly, effective use of strategies requires some degree of intentional course planning. These strategies should be considered as a starting point for instructors seeking to better incorporate the use of active learning strategies into their undergraduate engineering classrooms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


  • Active learning
  • Instructional strategies
  • Student resistance
  • Undergraduate engineering


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