Active Learning Not Associated with Student Learning in a Random Sample of College Biology Courses

Very well conducted research showing that, in the study sample, active learning does not produce any significant gains compared with the inactive variety. What is most interesting is the reason the authors discover for this, which fits perfectly with the model of soft/hard technologies that I have been developing and writing about in my forthcoming book on how learning technologies work. In brief, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Softer constructivist methods are extremely effective if the teacher uses them skillfully but, if not, they are pretty hopeless and may be positively harmful. Most studies of active learning have involved researchers who know what they are doing and engage with passion and enthusiasm as well as expertise, whereas this study simply grabs a random sample or people using active learning methods in their classrooms. The one and possibly the only benefit of harder formulaic methods of teaching is that they are rather more resilient to bad teachers (and/or those that do not have enough time or energy for the task as a result of other pressures). 

There are other good insights in this paper – it is well worth reading if you have an interest in education.

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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