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Recent study shows lectures aren't effective: Active learning approaches come out on top

It's official..."A new study [April 2014] finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods" (Bajak, 2014, source). (We'll have a look at active learning methods in a future post, unless you'd like to jump in with your own! :-p).


This is probably not much of a surprise for many folk who have sat through hours of "PowerPoint karaoke" (Young, 2012, source), perhaps taking notes, or snoozing, or checking emails / Facebook etc. From a purely personal point of view, thinking about the lectures I have sat through, it is rare I have come away feeling that I had thought something through, or had my thinking changed. Sometimes I may feel inspired to do some follow up work, and maybe discuss things with colleagues, friends, and anyone else who is keen to participate, but the same is true of the many videos I watch, and podcasts I listen to.


So, now there is empirical evidence that pulls together the studies that have signalled that sitting in a lecture does not necessarily translate to 'learning' anything.  The meta-analysis in the study considered "225 studies that reported data on examination scores or failure rates when comparing student performance in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses under traditional lecturing versus active learning" (Freeman et al, 2014, para 2, source.  The findings indicate that "teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation" (Bajak, 2014, source). In other words, as Freeman explained to Bajak, “The change in the failure rates is whopping...the exam improvement - about 6% - could, for example, bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B” (Bajak, 2014, source).

How about watching lectures online?

As a final point for folks who are adopting a more flipped approach and putting their lectures online (even though this isn't necessarily what constitutes flipping...have a quick read of the post flipped approach):

Freeman says the U.S. Department of Education has conducted its own meta-analysis of distance learning, and it found there was no difference in being lectured at in a classroom versus through a computer screen at home. So, Freeman says: “If you’re going to get lectured at, you might as well be at home in bunny slippers.”

Other research

The findings of the meta-analysis of Freeman et al. (2014) that “support active learning as the preferred practice in regular classrooms”, is consistent with findings of previous studies including meta-analyses by Minner et al. (2010), and Ruiz-Primo et al. (2011) as well as  literature reviews by  Froyd (2007), and the National Research Council (2013)


What are the implications? Does this mean death to the lecture? What could / should the practitioner with 10 years of lecture notes and PowerPoints prepared, do?



'FO: Ron's Bunny Hop slippers ;Found on

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