Active Learning

1. Challenges of conventional lecturing

Conventional way of lecturing is not effective. It is not a new problem at all:

A university class, Bologna (1350s)
This 600-year-old paint just shows conventional lecturing can only reach to students in the front row. Many students not engaged, dozing off, playing cell phones, or chatting with each other. It is just hard to keep their focus throughout the class.

percentage of students paying attention

Reference: James Hartley & Ivor K. Davies (1978) Note‐taking: A critical review, Programmed Learning and Educational Technology,15:3, 207-224
This plot shows No matter how captivating your presentation is, students (at least some) will start to drift away after 10-12 min.

2. Introduction to more effective teaching

A new format of active learning is to build 2-3 minutes activities after 10-12 minutes of lecturing:

Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom‐Based Practices

3. Definition of active learning
  • Any instructional method that engages students in the learning process.
  • In practice, in classroom, active learning is students doing anything in class to learn material, other than listening to instructor and taking notes.
  • These are well-defined instructional techniques that make teaching more effective.
4. A list of active learning activities
  • One-minute paper
  • Clarify lecture notes
  • Brainstorm possible applications of class material
  • Summarizer big ideas from previous lecturing
  • Brainstorm possible answers to problems
  • Assign items to different categories
  • Debate a seemingly confusing statement
  • Discuss an abstract concept
5. Effectiveness of active learning

The techniques have been validated by careful, documented, repeatable research. Their effectiveness is not simply a matter of opinion. Active learning works!

With Pause Without Pause
Short term recall 108 correct facts recalled after lecture 80 correct facts recalled after lecture
Long term recall Average exam score = 84.9 Average exam score = 76.7

Reference: Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1987). Using the Pause Procedure to Enhance Lecture Recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10(1), 14–18.


Interactive Engagement vs. Traditional Methods

Reference: Hake, R., “Interactive Engagement vs. Traditional Methods”, Am. J. of Physics. 1998.

6. What could go wrong

Student side

  • Student resistance
  • Effectiveness
  • Class time
  • Preparation time

Faculty side

  • Dismiss the idea – this will not work, it is a waste of time
  • Too much preparation time
  • Not enough time left to cover the content