Active Learning in Germany

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This article delves into the conceptual framework of active learning and its advent and evolution in Germany. Our primary focus is on the learning methods itself, and how they can be used to boost understanding and practical experience. This article is a must-read for those who wish to learn more about the subject, and assess if active learning is a good fit for them.

An Introduction to Active Learning

What is active learning?

To put it simply, active learning is a method of learning in which students are ‘actively’ or ‘experientially’ engaged in the learning process. Broadly speaking, active learning could apply to any form of learning where the student is NOT passively listening. 

A Harvard study (September 4, 2019) revealed that while students may feel that they learned more in a traditional lecture-based learning environment, they actually learn more when actively engaging in the classroom, and thereby, the learning process. 

Active learning, also referred to as self-directed learning, is implemented by developing systems that enable students to put theoretical knowledge to practical use, take part in discussions with peers and mentors, and figure out effective solutions to complex problems.

Key Principles of Active Learning

There are a lot of ways to learn ‘actively’. The key principles of active learning are a set of guidelines devised to maximize the impact of active learning.

  1. Driven by students – Active learning is a form of learning where the students decide what and how they want to learn, with the focus on them rather than on the educator. By having students be at the core and forefront of the learning system, active learning brings together the three paradigms of mindset, skillset, and toolset.
  2. Space for meaningful reflection – Active learning exists beyond the confines of time-bound tests and lectures. True learning lies in reflection post a learning experience, and in the comprehension of ideas and applications.
  3. Freedom of choice – People can have different perspectives on the same problem, object, or idea. Active learning allows just this — a learning ecosystem where students evaluate problems through unique viewpoints, and formulate individual ways of learning for themselves.
  4. Prospects for real-life applications – The concept of active learning rests on the basis of real-life complexities and application. When students are able to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations, not only do they learn better — they also learn from their inevitable mistakes. At CODE, we believe that all failures are productive learning

Shift in Teaching Methods

While active learning does indeed shift the focus to students, educators have had an important role to play in the reshaping of traditional learning methods. 

Active learning, or self-directed learning requires a style of teaching that can support students in an effective but non-stringent manner. Traditional learning, for example, is defined largely by a ‘classroom’ structure. A traditional classroom is headed by a teacher or instructor, and students learn through listening, theoretical assignments, and memorization-based tests.

In the active learning ecosystem, this standard is flipped. Professors are more mentors than teachers, present in advisory capacity. They facilitate active discussion, implement student-centered activities, and draw focus to the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ of learning.

The Importance of Fostering Connections 

A crucial and quite revelatory aspect of active learning lies in its foundation in relationship-building. Learning is as much about an exchange of ideas, as it is about theory — and harnessing the power of connections to boost learning is exactly what makes it so interesting.

Active learning highlights the many benefits of peer-to-peer learning — where students learn from each other through conversation, interdisciplinary projects, group activities, and more.

Peer-to-peer learning
Fostering connections via peer-to-peer learning is a key facet of active learning.

Active Learning in Germany

Now that you have a better understanding of the concept itself, let us train our focus on Germany specifically and the advent and growth of active learning here.

‘The indispensable societal role of universities is defined by their function as educators of critical, creative thinkers capable of making a contribution and an impact in an ever-changing and “super complex”11 world. Graduates should furthermore embrace lifelong learning and see universities as a given option for continuous education.12  This requires, however, that learning in the 21st century develops into an active process. Traditional approaches to learning, mainly manifested through lectures, are not sufficiently effective in promoting ownership and application of knowledge, key to the development of understanding, but rather supporting the passive absorption of content.’(Promoting Active Learning in Universities, European University Association, 2019)

The above excerpt from a paper on active learning published by EUA in 2019 highlights clearly the need to invest in non-traditional methods of learning and teaching, and how there is tangible interest in learning that encompasses more than just the passive absorption of knowledge. 

Germany’s total student population is around 2.8 million, out of which 458,210 are international students according to latest data — making Germany a top global study destination. It only makes sense, therefore, that there are major strides being made in how education is being reshaped in public and private universities across the country.

The concept of active learning comes under the broader umbrella of non-traditional learning, which is a phrase that can be used to indicate any way, form, or method of learning that deviates from convention.

A sign of the growth of interest in Germany around active learning is evident from the research surrounding it in the last few years, an indication that there’s more being done to actively investigate how learning is sought from one’s physical and social environments. A 7-year long study conducted by the Max Planck Research Group iSearch on learning patterns in children, was built to test this very hypothesis. 

This study led the way for the assessment of ‘ecological learning’ — broadly defined as the ability to select active learning methods that amplify learning efficiency. 

Moving on to active learning in higher education, there is a rising number of institutions in Germany that are modelling their curricula on active learning methods, or offering courses that are founded in the principles of active learning.

Technische Universität Nürnberg (est. 2021) has adopted an active approach to learning design, and offers courses that are competency-based. The Munich Business School took to active learning methods in the wake of Covid-19, and has created a flexible learning environment with both offline and online components that focus on learner participation.

CODE University of Applied Sciences (est. 2017) is built on a peer-to-peer learning model that aims to furnish students with real-life skills and enables them to learn through participation and self-direction. The first university to pioneer the move towards active learning on an international scale, CODE champions the cause of students who are seeking knowledge borne out of curiosity.

Active learning in higher education, or more pertinently, successful active learning in higher education is a tough nut to crack. Part of the reason is pre-established learning methods that date back centuries. A student/learner is exposed to conventional forms of learning and assessment from a very early age. Switching suddenly to a completely new way of study in higher education can therefore be overwhelming.

However, there is a growing number of students in Germany who now seek to explore alternative approaches towards acquiring knowledge. 

How to Find Out if Active Learning is the Right Choice for You

How do you know if active learning is the right choice for you? 

There are a few different touchstones of active learning, but the most important one is attitude towards learning. Active learning requires an openness of spirit that translates into curiosity, a sense of adventure, and a desire to apply, test, and iterate to boost understanding.

If you’re someone who prefers to learn in flipped-classroom, interactive, and interdisciplinary environments — active learning is definitely for you. 

Of course, that is not to say that you cannot learn to enjoy active learning, even if you do not fit all of the above criteria. Alternative forms of learning often need time to prove effective. 

At CODE, we believe that curiosity is capable of wonders – and is the first step on the road to effective self-directed learning. We do not expect you to know and understand all the facets of active learning. It is a journey of discovery, and we are happy to support you on the way.

Above all, learning is an experience – and one must enjoy it!

How to Begin your Active Learning Journey 

You might be wondering now, how you too can begin your active learning journey. Opportunities to pursue non-traditional means of learning in Germany are on the rise, and we definitely can be of help.

At CODE, we pride ourselves for housing and honing not the people with the best grades or test scores, but those who are the most ambitious, motivated, and talented. Our study programs are meticulously designed to allow our students complete agency over how they want to shape their academic journeys. 

Flipping the class at CODE
At CODE, lectures are replaced by lively group discussions.

CODE’s application process, like a lot of things we do, is unique. You will not be competing with other applicants for a spot. All applicants undergo the same process, regardless of their previous knowledge and background. We cannot enroll an unlimited number of students, but there is no fixed number of places to fill.

Think you’re a good fit? Learn all about our application process here.

Get in Touch

We are always happy to address your queries. Head to our FAQ section or get in touch with CODE here.


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