Lectures vs. Active Learning: Which is More Effective?

Many experts are completely re-thinking the efficacy of lectures. They question if students are really retaining the necessary information and mastering the overall concepts behind material.

One study 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.”

This study focusing on STEM undergraduates found that “55 percent more students fail lecture-based courses than classes with at least some active learning.”

Recognizing students’ short attention spans and the fact that many different learning styles exist, active learning is becoming a popular technique that teachers employ to engage students in learning—in both K-12 classes and in college. Active learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2).

There are several active learning techniques that can be used, such as group discussions, audio, video, journalism, role playing, and problem-based learning. According to Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence, active learning does several things:

  • Reinforces important material, concepts, and skills.
  • Provides more frequent and immediate feedback to students.
  • Addresses different student learning styles.
  • Provides students with an opportunity to think about, talk about, and process course material.
  • Creates personal connections to the material for students, which increases their motivation to learn.
  • Allows students to practice important skills, such as collaboration, through pair and group work.
  • Builds self-esteem through conversations with other students.
  • Creates a sense of community in the classroom through increased student-student and instructor-student interaction.

Online education for K-12 students often uses a blend of teacher presentations and active learning techniques. With the power of technology, online educators can more easily combine traditional instruction with fun, engaging, and interactive learning styles. They can also inject online games and activities into their lessons to further pique students’ interest in the material.

Here are some tips and considerations for educators to consider while developing an approach to using active learning techniques in their classroom.

Active learning is especially important for Generation Z—which, because of their frequent use of technology, makes them demand a different approach to learning. Learn more about how Generation Z learns and why new techniques are required to engage them in learning.

Image credit: Sergey Vladimirov/CC BY 2.0

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