A remarkable book to indicate a new direction of education!

What is active learning? (Iwanami Shinsho) now on sale

President Watanabe Jun’s latest book What is active learning? (Iwanami Shinsho) was published on 21 January, 2020, since when the book has been a target of attention from a wide range of readers. Below is the format of the book.

  • Chapter 1 From educational reforms to active learning
  • Chapter 2 Transitions to active learning
  • Chapter 3 practice of active learning to enable learning through the whole body and collaboration
  • Chapter 4 Participatory activities as shared assets
  • Chapter 5 Conditions for establishment of active learning

The book illustrates the latest research findings regarding ways of active learning. The authour discusses various issues, offering innovative interpretations of profound contents in plain words. The book can be read for sheer pleasure as well. It includes a number of cases of the practice of the SAOL. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the direction of a new educational reform.

From Amazon’s book reviews on What is active learning?

  1. An ideal map for thinking about and trying active learning
    The author argues that establishment of ‘the concepts of active learning as well as their significance in and impact on educational reforms’ and of ‘educational activities (techniques of learning)’ are essential parts of active learning where ‘learners actively engage themselves in learning through a range of activities (techniques of learning) such as presentation and discussion (p.i)’. He also claims that ‘the establishment of the two aspects are worth the effort although it may not be as easy as people expect (p.195).
    Watanabe mentions that ‘the book is targeted at those who are not necessarily in the field of education (p.ii)’, but teachers and the like will find it extremely beneficial.
    For instance, figures of ‘various forms of active learning’ (p.39) and ‘the SAOL model of learning’ (p.115) help the reader understand the extent of active learning and their current ‘position’ of their practice. In addition, the following advice will prove obliging hints for ‘lowering the hurdles’ for those starting active learning:

    First, start by incorporating an activity of five to ten minutes in length into your everyday lessons. … The next step will be to design one-hour-long lessons in styles of workshop by combining multiple activities. … Furthermore, you can experiment with instruction of project-based learning over a period of a week or more where learners go through presentation/discussion –> creation of final products and/or reports> (p.140)

    The distress of the author, as an expert who has been working for the development and spread of active learning (, ‘acquisition-oriented learning’ in his term,) for a long time, can be felt in remarks such as ‘The styles of lessons are largely bound by educational systems. This is no simple matter that conscientious teachers can solve individually (p.6)’ and ‘we are trying to move a huge rock of the style of knowledge-pouring lessons which has been the standard style of teaching (p.33)’.
    The phrase ‘the concept of active learning is “participation in class contributes to the class as a whole”(p.27)’ reminded me of the silence at a seminar for teachers when the chair called for questions after a presentation.
    Teachers are urged to change the way they behave if they were too ‘move the rock’. ‘Teachers’ mindsets’ will play a significant role.

  2. Cases of practice of active learning as techniques of learning!
    The author considers active learning, defined as ‘subjective, dialogistical, and deep learning’, to be ‘techniques of learning’, and offers cases of its practice. This is an interesting book to read. Not only teachers but also guardians, students, and researchers can benefit from the cases.

    1. The best part of the book is practice reports in Chapter 3. Role-plays, freeze plays [sic.], make-believe presentations, and news shows are introduced.
    2. In the part of freeze plays, an interesting practice of reproduction of the scene of Da Vinci’s ‘the Last Supper’ is introduced, where the picture is frozen (defrosted [sic.]). Making reference to ‘the last supper’ in the New Testament, Jesus and his twelve apostles appear in the classroom. The words of Jesus, ‘There is someone who betrayed me in here. I shall die soon,’ prompt the students taking on the role of the apostles to express their surprise at the moment in their own words. This marks the beginning of a drama. Practice like this is effective in nurturing intellectual creativity for its conflicts of emotions and creation of new scenes of excitement and surprise. It will help nurture Dewey’s creative intelligence.
    3. The cases in the book are full of ideas for use in lessons. However, active learning in the true sense is exercised in everyday lessons and lectures without these special devices. If students are motivated to listen to their teacher, that is enough to realise active learning. If they take the initiative for (subjective and motivational) lessons and consider what their teacher is trying to convey, that is enough to realise deep learning. If there is a dialogue between the teacher and the students, that is enough to realise active learning.
    4. Considering the above, if the teacher gives a lesson (lecture) with remarkable contents, that is already active learning. Students volunteer to answer a question by the teacher without being called upon. Calling upon students or discussing in groups is not essential. Remarkable lessons (lectures) are the cardinal point of active learning. The reader can learn much about in-class matters from this book. It is a must-read for any educators.

    I highly recommend it.