Active learning works – right?

To learn, you need to do something with your information. But, perhaps not surprisingly, most of us would rather chill.

Why? And what reservations might we have before signing up to the active learning club?

We suggest you start with reading at least one reading from each heading. If you are very pressed for time, read the first article and Joshua Eyler’s Storify below.

Active learning works!

In Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics (2014), Scott Freeman et almetaanalysed 225 studies on active learning. They found it moderately increased learning and significantly reduced dropout when compared to traditional lecturing.

Joshua Eyeler gives lots of examples of great research on active learning in his storify (2017). #ActiveLearningDay My tweets from October 25th’s event.

But people prefer to chill

Lissette Toetenel and Bart Rienties, in Analysing 157 learning designs using learning analytic approaches as a means to evaluate the impact of pedagogical decision-making found that modules with high levels of resources have low student retention, but high satisfaction whereas modules with high levels of communication have high retention but low satisfaction!

Why don’t students like active learning?

The Austrian philosopher and cultural critic Robert Pfaller argues that we like to delegate activity to our media in his delightful essay Little Gestures of Disappearance: Interpassivity and the Theory of Ritual.

Roediger and Karpicke, in Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention found that testing improves learning, but students feel more confident of their learning when they only re-read.

Sometimes we just like having ‘learning resouces’ even when we don’t read or watch them. Walter Benjamin muses on the joys of having books even when he doesn’t read them in On Unpacking My Library: a talk about book collecting.

And, while we’re at it, let’s not send our brains off on a rocket ship

What is included in ‘active learning’ is pretty broad – and mostly lecture content! So points out Daniel Willingham in his review Active learning.

Also the idea that you can ditch instruction altogether has been brutally excoriated in the highly-cited paper Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work.

Some teachers are not entirely happy with the unmitigated promotion of active learning, feeling that it does not suit some personalities – so argues one teacher in the Guardian‘s ‘Secret Teacher’ column: Secret Teacher: what’s wrong with being a passive learner?

David Didau points out that listening is not passive at all in Is listening really passive?

In the word of theatre, directors and theorists have agonised about overcoming the audience’s passive role for a long time. Ranciere in The Emancipated Spectator (2009) questions what the big deal really is (NB: although lovely, this is a 138 page book).

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