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Authors: Kristin Watson, PharmD, BCPS-AQ Cardiology and Sandeep Devabhakthuni, PharmD, BCPS-AQ Cardiology

Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages learners in the learning process. Essentially, this requires learners to perform meaningful learning activities and employ critical thinking skills. While homework could be considered active learning, effective active learning is typically introduced in the classroom. Active learning is often contrasted to traditional lectures, where students passively receive information from the instructor.

Several active learning strategies can be employed for learners on rotations. We will discuss a few strategies that may be effective for engaging learners in the classroom and provide suggestions on how to apply them to your rotation.

Think, pair, share
In this active learning strategy, learners receive a question from the instructor. The learners then review the question and develop a response on their own. After a predetermined period of time, learners then work in small groups to discuss their solution/response to the question.1

Application to experiential learning: Provide learners with a case or complex drug information question. Each learner will prepare a response to the question. Learners will then compare and contrast their answers with each other and work to develop a final recommendation. This approach can enable the learners to understand each other’s decision-making processes. For drug information questions, learners should be encouraged to discuss the search strategy that they used to determine their response. This type of discussion can be especially valuable to students who are still learning how to become more efficient in conducting literature searches and determining when to use primary, secondary and/or tertiary resources.

One-minute reflection
Moments of reflection are often missing from instruction, yet these are the times where learners usually process new content. Provide students with quiet time to reflect on content that was learned that day. Use writing activities to encourage learners to self-reflect.

Application to experiential learning: Provide learners with a thought-provoking question and ask them to write a one-minute reflection. Examples include “What is one thing you will remember from rotation today?”, “What was the most useful idea discussed today?”, and “What trial(s) did you use to support your recommendation?” Learners can develop a learning log so that they can document their responses.

For example, on our cardiology rotation, one of the expectations is for students to review primary literature in order to develop evidence-based recommendations. On a daily basis, the learners document trials that they reviewed to support their recommendations (e.g., use of spironolactone in heart failure, use of statin therapy in acute coronary syndromes, etc.) in a learning log. At the end of the rotation, the learners will have created a list of references that will be useful when they encounter patients with cardiovascular disease in the future.

In this election season, we are probably all well-versed in the ins/outs of a debate, or we probably remember engaging in a formal debate at some point in our education.

Application to experiential learning: Provide learners with a controversial topic applicable to the rotation. Assign which learner(s) will be the “pro” and the “con”. Consider holding at least two different debates during the rotation so that each learner gains the opportunity to explore different viewpoints. Examples related to a cardiology rotation might include aldosterone antagonist use for patients with heart failure who are receiving hemodialysis; role of digoxin to manage atrial fibrillation; and use of beta blocker therapy in patients with stable coronary disease.

This technique is a great way for learners to enhance communication skills and engage in a healthy dialogue with their colleagues. Be sure to set the rules and expectations for the debate:

  • Time allotted for introductory statements
  • Time allotted for rebuttals
  • Time allotted for final remarks
  • Interruptions – are they allowed? Is there a penalty if they occur?
  • Your role as the moderator

These websites provide useful information on setting procedures and ground rules:

Immediate Feedback Assessment Test
To better gauge learner understanding, objective assessments can be administered at the beginning and end of the rotation. Providing an assessment at the beginning of the rotation can be useful to understand the learners’ baseline knowledge and identify areas for improvement. Administering an assessment at the end of the rotation can confirm if learners improved. However, a good test should be more than just an assessment of knowledge; it should also provide an opportunity for meaningful learning.

One strategy is to provide immediate feedback so that students can learn from the content. Epstein and colleagues developed an Immediate Feedback Assessment Test (IFAT). They developed a form to allow learners to view their responses immediately to assess their performance and participate in collective dialogue about content that was challenging.2

Application to experiential learning: The instructor would still develop multiple choice questions related to the content knowledge that the learner should acquire from the rotation. Learners can complete each question individually and then discuss the correct/incorrect responses before moving on to the next question.

Please click on the following link to see an example of IFAT: This assessment was developed using a paid version of SurveyMonkey®. This approach can allow for the learner to view immediate feedback after submitting an answer for each question. Also, suggestions can be made for learners to review and discuss a clinical trial or guidelines if they answer a question incorrectly.

We hope that you enjoyed this blog on how to incorporate active learning techniques into experiential learning! We have found these techniques to be very helpful in both the classroom and experiential settings for retaining student knowledge. If you have any other helpful tips on how to incorporate active learning, please share them with us! Please email us at


Kristin Watson, PharmD, BCPS-AQ Cardiology

Dr. Watson is an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and practices as a clinical pharmacy specialist in the ambulatory heart failure clinic at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Follow her on Twitter @cards_pharm_gal

Sandeep Devabhakthuni, PharmD, BCPS-AQ Cardiology

Dr. Devabhakthuni is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and practices as a clinical pharmacy specialist in advanced heart failure at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Follow him on Twitter @deepdev511


  1. Karge, BD, Phillips KM, Jessee T, McCabe M. Effective strategies for engaging adult learners. J Coll Teach Learn 2011;8:53-56.
  2. Epstein ML, Lazarus AD, Calvano TB, et al. Immediate feedback assessment technique promotes learning and corrects. Psychol Rec 2002;52:187-201.


Innovation on Rotation: Incorporating Active Learning Strategies

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