The Evidence for Active Learning
In our first blog post of the Ultimate Guide to Active Learning in the College Classroom series, we covered what active learning is. It’s more than just an education trend.
In fact, more than 30 years of evidence supports active learning as a more effective teaching technique than lectures. Bonwell and Eison wrote the seminal work on employing active learning techniques in the university setting in 1991, and, since then, multiple researchers have studied its effects.
A meta-analysis of 225 studies comparing active learning to lectures found that students in a traditional classroom were 1.5 times more likely to fail than those in an active learning environment. Although the study concentrated on STEM courses, the results were consistent across all disciplines.
Traditional lectures also don’t help students develop the skills they need in the workplace. A 2013 Gallop poll found that only about 11% of business leaders think grads are prepared for the workforce. In its report on the future of jobs, the World Economic Forum rated complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity as the top skills needed for graduates in 2020. Active learning focuses on developing all of these skills as well as course material.
7 Benefits of Active Learning
- Incorporates Technology: Students use laptops to complete active learning exercises and can use mobile phones for polls or answering questions during class.
- Allows Risk Taking/Failure: With active learning techniques, students get to test and apply their knowledge in the presence of an expert and learn from their mistakes before they are graded.
- Increased Retention: Students are processing ideas and creating deeper connections with the material.
- Involves Critical Thinking: Sharing ideas allows students to see course material from a number of angles. Discussion and debate help them examine paths of logic and build better arguments.
- Develops Teamwork Skills: Working in groups on projects, summarizing material for the class, or to solve problems mimics the working environments students encounter after graduation.
- Enables Problem Solving: Educators can pose problems in the classroom that might be too challenging for students to tackle without a professor’s guidance and advice.
- Encourages Creativity: In an active learning environment, students play off of each other and the professor to create new ideas and solutions.
If you’re wondering if there’s ever a time to not employ active learning techniques or times when it works better than others, read Part 3, “When to Use Active Learning.”