As the name suggests, "physically active learning" simply adds an element of physical activity to other teaching and learning strategies. Such physical activity can take place outdoors or in a classroom setting. Likewise, the “embedded physical activity can be specifically relevant to the learning task at-hand, or task non-relevant but still occurring simulatenously in the taught session” (all quotes are from the study referenced below.) In this sense, “physically active lessons are distinct from ‘brain’ or ‘active breaks’ which allow bouts of in-class activity without educational content.”
Theoretically, physical activity should enhance learning by :
In both cases, the impact was found to be positive and statistically significant. Indeed, the effect size was high for “time-on-task” (0.81) and small to medium (0.36) on academic performance.
In a class of 20 students with a mean grade of 85% and an average difference of 8.5 percentage points, embedding simple physical activities (such as performing a different movement for right and wrong answers, or walking around the room while reading) could thus increase the average performance to 88% and help two below-average students catch up with the rest of the class.
Educational psychologists usually recommend that school leaders focus on powerful initiatives, defined as having an effect size approaching 0.4 or higher. Physically active learning is right at the limit, but it is also an exceedingly simple strategy to implement. In addition, its benefits are likely concentrated on students with special needs and learning challenges. Likewise, physically active learning is also an effective "hook" that can help make further learning strategies possible.
Reference: Norris, Van Steen, Direito, Stamatakis, “Physically active lessons in school and their impact on physical activity, educational, health and cognition outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019.