As regular readers know, I’ve been a long-time advocate and practitioner of “active” learning (see The Best Research Demonstrating That Lectures Are Not The Best Instructional Strategy).

Another study has just been published which supports that perspective, but that’s not really a big deal since lots of research already supports it.

What really caught my eye is that used a new-to-me-framework (which is apparently several years old) called Interactive, Constructive, Active, Passive (ICAP) theory to help “rank” different teaching practices that led to specific learning outcomes.

The study, Using an extended ICAP-based coding guide as a framework for the analysis of classroom observations, is NOT behind a paywall.

Here is an excerpt:

It argues that Active engagement leads to better learning outcomes than Passive, that Constructive is better than Active, and that the Interactive mode of engagement leads to the best learning outcomes….

A Passive mode of engagement is one where learners are being oriented toward and receiving information from the instructional materials without overtly doing anything observable related to learning, such as listening to a lecture.

Active engagement requires behaviors that cause focused attention while manipulating lesson materials or input. Students engage in Active mode when they underline certain text sentences or write a summary of an essay.

Constructive engagement with instructional materials requires behavior that produces new ideas that go beyond the information given. For example, in a Constructive behavior such as self-explaining, learners are articulating what a text sentence means to them in their own words. They relate the information to their previous knowledge, generate inferences that are not explicitly stated in the text, or provide justifications that make the text or the problem solution more explicit.

ICAP defines the Interactive mode of cognitive engagement as group activity that meets two criteria: (a) the partners’ utterances must be primarily Constructive, and (b) the interaction must extend the generative nature of the prior contributions of the individual partners.


Here’s how one of the researchers described the differences when being interviewed:

“Take for example, watching a video. Students can silently watch a video (which is ‘passive’); watch a video and take notes using the presenter’s words (which is considered ‘active’); write questions that arise for them while watching the video (which is ‘constructive’); or watch a video and discuss it with another student to generate different ideas (which is ‘interactive’).

“Interactive engagement in classrooms is where students are involved in activities with other students that stimulate them to develop deeper understanding. They’re making judgements, proposing and critiquing arguments and opinions, and working out solutions to problems. These activities can also help them to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills…all of which are predictors of improved learning.”


I think it’s a potentially useful framework to use when observing lessons (which is how the researchers used it) and for when teachers are planning them.

I was also reminded of John Hattie talking about why the Jigsaw method was pretty much the best instructional strategy out there – it certainly hits the “interactive” points.