Lloyd Armstrong’s fantastic blog pointed me to a new study out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”. The article is a meta analysis of 225 studies of academic performance across lecture-based and active learning courses. The results are decisive:
Students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.
This isn’t the first study to come to these conclusions (the PNAS study sites a number of other similar results), but it is the largest so far. And the authors’ discussion of the results is perhaps more damning – after looking at the magnitude of the effect across the sample size they conclude:
If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discounted because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial.
In other words, if active learning was a new drug being tested on patients – like early trials of antibiotics for example – it would be unethical to continue the alternative treatment because of how dramatically inferior the results are. With the significant difference that this experiment has been going on for 900 years, since the development of the first lecture-based university courses in the UK.
At Kepler and Spire, we’ve been building new models of higher education that reflect our beliefs that letting these students fail through a reliance on outdated pedagogy is unethical. We’re redesigning the classroom experience to dramatically reduce the time and money spent on lectures:
- We use technology, leveraging content from edX, Coursera, and other exceptional providers to run a flipped classroom – where students watch lectures for free online at night so we can use class time for active learning;
- With the money we save by shifting lectures from expensive professors to free online resources, we are able to invest in many more coaches and facilitators to reduce student:teacher ratios and enable small group problem solving and discussion sections;
- Rather than constructing huge and expensive lecture halls and campuses that force a passive learning approach, we’re designing our classrooms to look more like office space to facilitate active learning with small teams working together to solve problems;
- Finally, through tight partnerships with employers, we are able to expose students to work-based learning from day one, further reducing costs for students and driving even better outcomes in terms of academic quality and employment rates.
We’re working hard to prove out our model and demonstrate through our results that traditional lecture-based models for higher education are not only unethical from a quality perspective, but are often more expensive due to expensive staff, huge infrastructure requirements, and much higher rates of failure and repetition. Thanks for following along with us as we learn.