Active vs. Passive Learning: Boost LMS Engagement & E-Learning ROI With Your Online Course

11 min readNov 6, 2023
Active vs. Passive Learning: Boost LMS Engagement & E-Learning ROI With Your Online Course

Imagine two contrasting classroom scenes highlight the importance of learning approaches: the first buzzes with dynamic discussions and problem-solving; the second features passive absorption from textbooks under monotonous instruction.

A blend of active and passive methods caters to individual preferences. Thereby, creating a dynamic and inclusive Learning Management System (LMS). Today, engaging learners amidst digital distractions is challenging. But with active learning strategies, it’s possible.

This contrast is crucial in eLearning, where the active vs. passive learning debate impacts learner engagement and course ROI. In this article, we’ll explore the length & breadth of this bottleneck issue.

Active Learning & Its Characteristics

An instructional approach to engage students in the learning process. How? By having them participate in meaningful learning activities & think about what they are doing. It differs from traditional methods where students typically listen to lectures or read textbooks passively.

Active learning requires students to engage in higher-order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Here are some characteristics of active learning:

Characteristics of Active Learning
  • Student-Centered: Active learning shifts the focus of activity from the teacher to the learners. Students are directly involved & invested in their own knowledge.
  • Engagement in the Learning Process: Students are involved in more than listening. They are engaged in reading, writing, discussion, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking tasks.
  • Interaction: Students work together in groups or participate in discussions that encourage communication and collaboration.
  • Feedback: Frequent, immediate feedback is an integral part of active learning. This helps students to monitor their own understanding and improves learning outcomes.
  • Reflective Learning: Active learning encourages students to reflect on their knowledge. Reflection turns experience into insight, helping students to understand and apply what they have learned.
  • Critical Thinking: Students are encouraged to think critically and independently, often exploring alternative solutions to problems and making decisions about their learning.
  • Application Oriented: Active learning typically involves students applying knowledge to new situations, thereby making the learning relevant and embedding it more deeply in their memory.
  • High Expectations: The active learning method assumes high levels of responsibility on the part of students for their own learning.
  • Learning from and with Each Other: Peer instruction is often an element of active learning. Here students learn from the experiences and perspectives of their peers.

Active learning can take on many forms, including group work, debates, role plays, simulations, and peer teaching. Often facilitated by the use of technology, like interactive polling or collaborative software, it doesn’t necessarily require it. The key is that the students are active participants in their educational journey.

Passive Learning & Its Characteristics

It is the traditional educational model. Involving the one-way transmission of information from the instructor to the student. In this model, students play a receptive role, taking in the material presented to them without engaging in higher-order analysis or application during the learning process.

Here are some characteristics of passive learning:

Characteristics of Passive Learning
  • Instructor-Centered: The instructor is the primary source of knowledge and the main driver of the learning experience, with students absorbing information presented.
  • Listening and Observing: Students spend most of their time listening to lectures, watching demonstrations, or reading from textbooks.
  • Limited Student Engagement: Interaction in a passive learning environment is minimal, and students do not usually participate actively in the learning process.
  • Note-Taking: Students often take notes as their main activity during learning sessions, which they may review later for examinations or assignments.
  • Delayed Feedback: Feedback in a passive learning setting can be less immediate, often coming through graded tests or papers long after the learning activity has occurred.
  • Lower Order Thinking Skills: Passive learning emphasizes memorization and recall of information rather than encouraging higher-order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis, or creation.
  • Independent Learning: Students often work individually rather than collaboratively, which can limit the development of communication and teamwork skills.
  • Minimal Application: There is less emphasis on applying knowledge in new or practical contexts during the learning process itself.
  • Assessment Through Testing: Evaluation of student learning is often through formal methods such as quizzes, tests, and exams that focus on the quantity of knowledge absorbed rather than the quality of understanding.

Passive learning can still be effective for certain types of content acquisition, particularly where basic knowledge and understanding are the primary goals. However, in many educational circles, there is a growing emphasis on active learning due to its benefits for deeper understanding and skill development.

Active vs. Passive Learning [with Outcomes]

Active vs. Passive Learning

In active learning, students are directly engaged in the learning process through activities that require them to apply concepts and think critically. Whereas, passive learning is characterized by a lack of student participation in the learning process, relying on listening, memorization, and note-taking.

Active and passive learning are two fundamentally different approaches to education, each with distinct methodologies and outcomes.

5 Outcomes of Active Learning

  1. Improved Critical Thinking: Because active learning requires students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information, it enhances their critical thinking abilities.
  2. Better Retention: Active engagement with material has been shown to improve retention of information over longer periods.
  3. Enhanced Transfer of Knowledge: Students are better able to apply what they’ve learned to new and different situations.
  4. Increased Motivation: Active learning can increase learners’ motivation and interest in the subject matter.
  5. Development of Interpersonal Skills: Many active learning activities require collaboration, which can enhance communication and teamwork skills.

4 Outcomes of Passive Learning

  1. Efficient Information Delivery: Passive learning can be an efficient method for delivering factual information to large groups of students.
  2. Ease of Measurement: Standardized testing of the information delivered passively can be easily achieved, making it simpler to measure outcomes.
  3. Potential for Overload: Students can become overwhelmed with information, leading to surface-level memorization rather than deep understanding.
  4. Dependence on Instructor Quality: The effectiveness of passive learning is highly dependent on the instructor’s ability to present material in an engaging and clear manner.

Comparative Analysis

Research typically favors active learning for its ability to foster a deeper understanding and more durable retention of knowledge. Here’s a comparative analysis of both the learning methodologies:

  • Engagement: Active learning engages students in the process, leading to better focus and interest, whereas passive learning often leads to disengagement and distraction.
  • Skill Development: Active learning helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while passive learning often limits students to lower-order cognitive skills, such as recall and comprehension.
  • Retention and Understanding: Active learning leads to higher retention rates and a deeper understanding of the material, as students are encouraged to make connections and understand the content, not just memorize it.
  • Collaboration: Active learning usually involves some degree of collaboration, which can prepare students for the teamwork required in most modern work environments. Passive learning is typically individualistic.
  • Application: Students in active learning scenarios are better prepared to apply their knowledge in real-world situations, as they have practiced doing so in their learning activities. Passive learning often lacks such application until perhaps an assessment or examination.
  • Adaptability to Learning Styles: Active learning can be more adaptable to different learning styles, with multiple types of activities that cater to diverse students. Passive learning is generally more rigid and can disadvantage students whose learning styles do not align with auditory or visual modes of information delivery.

While passive learning can be effective for conveying specific types of information, particularly when time or resources are limited, active learning is generally more effective for developing a deeper understanding, critical thinking skills, and long-term retention of material.

The Impact of Learning Approaches on LMS Engagement

The Impact of Learning Approaches on LMS Engagement

The debate between active and passive learning approaches isn’t just academic — it directly influences the efficacy of your LMS and the return on investment (ROI) for e-learning initiatives. By aligning your online course with the principles of active learning, you can turn a standard LMS into a dynamic environment where engagement soars.

When learners are merely passive recipients of information, LMS engagement metrics tend to be uninspiring.

But when active learning takes center stage, those same metrics come alive.

By designing courses that require learners to interact with the material, the LMS evolves from a simple repository of information to an active learning workspace. LMS Features such as quizzes, interactive simulations, and problem-solving exercises compel learners to log in more frequently and spend more time within the LMS, driving up usage statistics — a clear indicator of engagement.

It’s not just about logging in more often; it’s about creating an experience that sticks. Interactive elements are the secret ingredients that make learning memorable. These are the building blocks of a learning journey that fosters deep retention. The interactive nature of these elements makes the content stick, ensuring that the LMS is not just a one-time stop but a continual learning companion.

Strategies to Measure LMS Engagement

Measuring engagement is actually a map that requires knowing where to look. Here are some tried-and-true strategies to measure it:

Strategies to Measure LMS Engagement

Embarking on the journey of crafting an online course is not just about filling pages with content; it’s about scripting an adventure that captivates and educates.

Enhancing E-Learning ROI with Active Learning Strategies

Engagement and retention are the twin pillars supporting e-learning ROI. When students are actively engaged, they’re more likely to complete courses, apply what they’ve learned, and sign up for more — translating into higher ROI for e-learning providers.

Linking Active Learning Strategies with ROI

When learners interact with the content, they’re not passively consuming information; they’re constructing knowledge brick by brick. This deep-rooted understanding leads to higher completion rates, better performance, and ultimately, a greater value from the course both for the learner and the provider.

The equation is simple:

active learning = active minds.

And active minds = better learning outcomes.

And when learners succeed, they tend to return for more, and recommend the courses to others. Thereby, creating a virtuous cycle of engagement and profitability. This is the ROI of active learning: creating a product so effective that its value proposition becomes self-evident.

Tools & Techniques for Implementing Active Learning in Online Courses

Unleashing the power of active learning in e-learning environments involves a suite of tools and techniques designed to captivate and challenge the learner. Following are some of the tools/techniques used for implementing active learning:

  • Interactive video lectures that pause for learner input,
  • Gamified learning modules with rewards and leaderboards,
  • Real-world case studies requiring critical analysis, and
  • Live virtual classrooms that foster debate and discussion.

They transform the simple act of clicking through a course into an interactive journey that fosters deep learning and retention.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Investing in Active Learning Tools

The initial investment in tools and platforms can give pause to decision-makers in education. However, a cost-benefit analysis often reveals that the investment pays dividends. Traditional methods, while potentially lower in upfront costs, can result in lower engagement and completion rates — factors that critically affect ROI.

In contrast, investment in active learning tools often leads to a multiplier effect. Higher engagement leads to better completion rates, improved performance, positive reviews, and word-of-mouth referrals — all contributing to the bottom line. The scalability of active learning tools also means that once created, they can be reused and adapted across numerous courses and cohorts, further allocating costs over time.

In fact, the real cost is often not found in investing in these tools, but in ignoring them. In the rapidly evolving landscape of e-learning, standing still is falling behind.

If you’re struggling with operational expenses in your training business, our article on reducing your operational costs by 20% might help you.

Transitioning from Passive to Active: A Step-by-Step Guide for Educators and Trainers

Transitioning from Passive to Active: A Step-by-Step Guide for Educators and Trainers

The shift from a traditional lecture-based course to active learning can seem challenging. But with a strategic approach, this transition can lead to rewarding outcomes for both learners and educators. Let’s walk you through the steps to bring active learning to the forefront of your educational offerings.

Step 1: Assessing Current Content for Active Learning Opportunities

First things first, let’s audit your content. Start by mapping out your course as it currently stands, and ask the following questions:

  • Where are learners simply ‘clicking next’ without engaging with the material?
  • Which sections see the highest dropout rates or the least time spent?
  • Are there assessments that could be transformed from MCQs to interactive scenarios?

This assessment phase is about identifying gaps and opportunities — finding those moments within your course where engagement can be converted from a spark to a blaze.

Step 2: Revamp Courses with Active Learning Methodologies

With a clear map of where your course stands, it’s time to chart a new course. Here are some practical steps to infuse active learning into your online courses:

  1. Introduce Interactive Elements: Convert static content into interactive elements. Use tools like interactive videos, simulations, or gamified quizzes to make learning active.
  2. Promote Collaboration: Encourage peer-to-peer/social learning through discussion forums, group projects, and peer review sessions.
  3. Incorporate Real-World Tasks: Replace abstract concepts with real-world challenges. Use case studies, problem-based learning, or virtual labs where learners can practice applying knowledge.
  4. Provide Immediate Feedback: Ensure that your LMS offers immediate feedback for activities, so learners can understand their mistakes and learn on the spot.
  5. Personalize Learning Paths: Use adaptive learning technologies to create personalized pathways for students, catering to different learning styles and paces.
  6. Leverage Data Analytics: Utilize LMS analytics to continuously refine and improve interactive elements based on learner performance and engagement data.

Step 3: Training Educators & Trainers to Facilitate Active Learning Environments

The final step in the transition is empowering the facilitators themselves — the educators and trainers. This involves:

  • Professional Development Workshops: Offer workshops on active learning strategies and digital tools, allowing educators to practice and gain confidence.
  • Mentorship Programs: Pair less experienced educators with active learning champions who can mentor them through the transition.
  • Resource Libraries: Develop a library of resources, templates, and best practices for educators to draw from.
  • Feedback Systems: Create a feedback loop where educators can share insights and improvements on what’s working and what’s not.
  • Continuous Learning Culture: Foster a culture of continuous learning among educators, underscoring the importance of innovation and adaptation in teaching methodologies.

Transitioning to active learning is not just about adopting new tools — it’s a complete mindset shift for educators and learners alike. It’s a commitment to making learning a dynamic, interactive, and continuous journey.


Wrapping up, we’ve journeyed through the transformative power of active learning and its undeniable benefits for both engagement and ROI in e-learning. By shifting away from passive information absorption and towards a more interactive, hands-on approach, we not only hold the learner’s attention but also deepen their understanding and retention of the material.

The ripple effect? Enhanced engagement, encouraging course completion, and ultimately, a robust return on investment for e-learning providers. There’s no better time than now to embrace this active learning ethos.

And by doing so, you’re not just staying current; you’re setting a standard for what e-learning can and should be — a vibrant, interactive experience that stands out in a crowded digital education market.




Fully-integrated SaaS platform for businesses in skilling industry.Scale & deliver widespread training programs end-to-end with world class learning experience.