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Passive Learning

Passive learning has been defined as the assumption that students are actively seeking out the course material, with open minds waiting to be filled with knowledge. Traditional instructor-centered teaching methods have long been the scene of passive learning. A college lecture where the students silently take notes is a classic example of passive learning. While lecture can be appropriate in some instances, in any passive learning situation, it has been noted that people retain only ten percent of what they read and only 20 percent of what they hear, as opposed to 90 percent of what they actively do.

Passive Learning

However, in the modern educational environment, passive learning has been replaced with more active teaching models. Passive learning leads to exams in which the students simply regurgitate material. In contrast, an active learning environment challenges the student to take a role in the educational process, constructing knowledge from instructor explanation of concepts and principles, and not simple verbatim facts.

Obvious problems with passive learning are:

  • Relies on expert teaching and synthesis of information
  • Does not teach constructive knowledge acquisition
  • Fails to integrate self-directed or self-regulated approach to information and learning
  • Does not open itself up to feedback

Passive learning assumes that the instructor is a dedicated master of a given subject, and not necessarily a good teacher. The students merely record the verbose and grandiose knowledge of the instructor’s wisdom without challenge. There is no collaboration in the learning process and therefore ultimately there will be little or no retention of knowledge on the part of the student.

Passive Learning and the Traditional Classrooms

More traditional classrooms tend to lend themselves to passive learning. In a passive learning classroom structure, students are expected to attend class and glean pertinent information from the teacher or professor. The teacher is expected to have vast knowledge on the subject of study, but does not need to be trained in educational practices. Teachers are seen as a continuation of the textbook. Important information is shared between teacher and student using lectures. In many cases, lectures might be boring prompting students to participate in distracting activities during class. Students are expected to take notes to help with future study for assessments. In some instances, teachers provide the notes for students requiring even less participation from them. There is a very low content retention rate among passive learners.

Teachers who gear their courses toward passive learning, do not have the need to change course content or presentation methods from year to year. The ultimate goal of a teacher in a passive learning classroom is that the students can pass the examination at the completion of the course.

Passive learning laboratory experiences do not require students to guide their own learning. Usually these lab lessons begin with student exploration or tasks, but students are not prepared to handle the task and so teachers must provide step-by-step instructions for completion.

In contrast, in active learning students are expected to build on their prior knowledge and experience in the learning process. The classroom is more student focused, with students actively participating in classroom activities.

Related Research Paper Topics

Effective Teaching Methods Research Papers discuss the different methods of teaching that work effectively with students of different learning styles.


Instructional Strategies for Teachers research papers look at strategies for teachers to help students learn more effectively.


Motivation in the Classroom research papers on the difficulty of classroom management and motivating students to achieve.


Classroom Procedures research papers examine classroom procedures that help a class stay focused so students can retain knowledge and skills.