June 12, 2014

“Active learning” improves student outcomes in post-secondary STEM courses

A recent meta-analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reviewed 225 studies shows that “active learning”—instruction based on activities other than instructor lectures—significantly improves outcomes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics undergraduate courses. The study revealed that “average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.”

“Active learning” does not equal blended learning; in fact the threshold for what the authors consider “active” seems quite low, and includes “approaches as diverse as occasional group

problem-solving, worksheets or tutorials completed during class, use of personal response systems with or without peer instruction, and studio or workshop course designs.”

In essence, the analysis simply asked: is teaching via almost anything other than a traditional lecture better than the lecture alone? The answer appears to be yes.

Active learning doesn’t have to use technology, but a good blended learning implementation definitely fits the researchers’ definition of active learning—as explored previously.

Many blended learning advocates believe that there is a need for additional evidence that blended learning works. Although this study doesn’t address blended learning per se—and it looks at college courses—it provides good evidence that the type of instruction that blended learning enables leads to better outcomes than traditional lectures alone.

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