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Active Learning – data says it works

I’ve been making a special effort to support the claims of the headers in our Trainers Warehouse catalogs–claims such as “active learning enhances understanding.”

In fact, I spent hours yesterday, culling through research and articles to locate original sources and sound data. I found that the true researchers tend to conduct focused studies with control groups and limit their conclusions to the specific subject area they tested (i.e. college calculus, physics, etc.). The education theorists, alternatively, tend to look at a series of studies and base more sweeping conclusions on broader observations, without sharing the nitty-gritty details of each test. Still, I was able to scrape together a few good sources you can share with learners and supervisors, to support your commitment to active learning strategies.

When teaching complicated subjects like physics and math, understanding increased 150%

In 1999, Priscilla Laws, David Sokoloff, and Ronald Thornton, (from Dickinson College, University of Oregon and Tufts University, respectively), found that student learning of complicated physics concepts improved exponentially when interactive teaching methods were utilized. They reported: “After traditional instruction, only 30% of a sample of over 1200 students in calculus-based physics courses at five different universities, understood fundamental acceleration concepts. When, for the first time, two Tools for Scientific Thinking active-learning kinematics laboratories were offered at these universities, more than 75% of the students understood these concepts.

Laws, P., Sokoloff, D., and Thornton, R. (1999). Promoting Active Learning Using the Results of Physics Education Research. UniServe Science News, 13, Retrieved from, 4 September 2006

87% of students said active learning improved understanding

According to JP Morgan Chase Foundation’s “Champions of Active Learning” (CAL) program findings, 87% of those surveyed said “students participating in CAL programs gained a better understanding of their subject matter than those in other classes.”

Students must do more than listen

In their article, “Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom,” Charles C. Bonwell and James A. Eison say, “Research consistently has shown that traditional lecture methods, in which professors talk and students listen, dominate college and university classrooms. …Analysis of the research literature (Chickering and Gamson 1987), however, suggests that students must do more than just listen: They must read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. Most important, to be actively involved, students must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.


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