Passive Learning vs. Active Learning

Passive vs. Active learning is not a new concept, but I hadn’t heard it discussed in the context of riding instruction before. The book “Teaching Tips for Horseback Riding Lessons” by Jo Struby brought this up and I wanted to share.

Basically, passive learning is through receiving, while active learning is through doing.

Passive Learning

  • Receiving
    • The instructor tells you what, why, how and where to do something.
  • Benefits
    • Increases the student’s awareness and knowledge
    • Helps improve listening skills
    • Can speed up learning or avoid frustration through explaining it to them instead of waiting for them to figure it out
    • Helpful for auditory learners

Active Learning

  • Doing
    • Trial and error.
    • The instructor asks the rider to use what they have learned to create something of their own choice
    • The student does the doing instead of the teacher.
  • The student is asked to contribute to the lesson plan
    • What do you think you need to work on? Let’s work on that.
    • Can you create an exercise for this skill we’re working on for the the next lesson?
    • Let them choose the order of the obstacles
    • Let them set up the obstacle course on the ground before mounting
  • Benefits
    • Motivates students
    • Allows for student creativity
    • Lets you see how much the student has actually learned
    • Lets the student figure out how to use their skills in a new situation that they chose
    • Helpful for kinestetic learners

Struby notes that riding instructors tend to use passive teaching a lot, and should remember to include active learning parts to a lesson as well. There is a time and place for both.

Here is another concept this book brings up that I think is related:

Structured Lessons

  • Step by Step instruction
    • Instructor determines and shares the steps to be taken
  • Primarily teacher paced lesson
  • Benefits
    • Usually preferred for and by beginning riders
    • Ease of learning
    • Can be safer
    • Some students feel more comfortable being taught step by step

Unstructured Lesons

  • No specific lesson plan of steps
    • Still based on important principles and progression
    • Student is encouraged to explore and search for the correct answer
    • Note that less structure means the instructor must be more prepared for a variety of unforeseen outcomes!
  • Examples
    • Leaves the lesson topic to cover open to student request
    • Ask a student to prepare an activity to share in the next lesson, then see how it goes and what they learn
    • Ask a student to be the instructor’s assistant for a day, where they help develop the lesson plan and attend it unmounted to assist in leading it
    • If the current plan is not working, ask the student what they want to work on instead
    • Have a suggestion box for lesson topics
  • Benefits
    • For intermediate and advanced riders, effectiveness is similar to structured lessons
    • Some students will learn better in unstructured lessons
    • Encourages student independence
    • Allows variety in lessons
    • Can increase student motivation
    • Can reduce boredom
    • Can make the correct answer, once discovered, more impactful
    • Student helps steer their learning and takes ownership
    • Can be a nice change for instructors used to teaching only structured lessons

Struby notes that most experienced instructors use a combination of structured and unstructured lesson styles depending on the student’s needs and preferences.

I thought these were interesting concepts and am going to start looking for specific ways to include more active learning and some unstructured time in my lessons for those riders I think it would help!

Have you used these techniques in your lessons?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!


One thought on “Passive Learning vs. Active Learning

  1. I love how this is put together, thank you! I think I mostly teach a combination of structured/unstructured lessons. I like to start out with a plan, but then kind of see how my riders are feeling that day and go from there. I feel like it fits my personality better than having a completely structured lesson from start to finish. But at the same time, I sometimes have riders who need the structure and consistency of a lesson plan from start to finish. As always, it depends on the rider’s needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *