The literature on active learning indicates that active learning has a positive impact on student learning (see Freeman et al., 2014, and Theobald with 31 co-authors, 2020 :-). Unfortunately, most studies do not define active learning, and those that do tend to define it pedagogical; that is, what instructional strategies foster active learning, not what active human processes fosters (causes) learning.
For example: Nguyen et al. (2021) states, "In this review, we define active learning as classroom-based activities designed to engage students in their learning to answer questions, solving problems, discussing contact, or teaching others, individually or groups" (p. 2). Similarly, Freeman et al. (2014) states, "Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert" (p. 8313).
These articles define "active learning" as the antithesis of lecture, using problem solving, peer instruction, and inquiry learning as active learning strategies. What is it about these active learning strategies that foster learning? It is this x-factor that key. Defining active learning as various strategies misses the point.
Krista Wojdak, from App State, and I are pursuing a better understanding of the current definitions of active learning, and then providing our on own definition based on cognitive, affective, and behavior processing. This approach has more in common with Lombardi et al. (2021) who post a construction-of-understanding ecosystem. Krista and I hope to submit our manuscript some time in the fall.