Evidence-based teaching: Active learning works

In one of the largest metaanalysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date active learning has again been validated.

The evidence for using active, engaging techniques like group projects, using clickers to assess in-class learning, instant feedback/five minute papers, and similar tactics may help students meet learning objectives far better than lectures. Using evidence from 225 studies a research group led by Scott Freeman of the University of Washington found that students in traditional lecture-only courses were one-and-a-half times more likely to fail than were those in classes involving some form of active learning.

The studies used were focused on undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes at American universities.

This is no great shock to most educators, but it again underlines the need to translate research evidence into practice in education. The metaanalysis used studies done in regular classrooms so there is still work to be done in defining how active learning strategies like using instant feedback to gauge student responses, grouping students into content-focused workshops, and calling on individuals randomly translates to online courses.

The study suggests using an active learning approach improved students’ grades by about 6 percent, on average, and could even bump an individual student a full letter grade higher.

The study was published in PNAS.