In fact learning.futures is simply a collection of evidence-based best practices in learning and teaching to support high quality learning outcomes. In this series of blog posts, I will discuss the evidence on which the strategy is based.
Probably THE most important aspect of the learning.futures strategy is that students should be engaged in active learning and I will focus on this aspect in this first post. There are many definitions of active learning including “a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content.“1
One of the three aspects of the UTS Model is “an integrated exposure to professional practice through dynamic and multifaceted modes of practice-oriented education” so it is helpful to link active learning to the activities a professional might engage in. Thus at UTS we might think of active learning as “students engaging in a range of learning activities that promote authentic professional practices.”
So what is the evidence that active learning improves learning outcomes? There are literally hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles on this topic, so it is best to draw upon the results of a meta-analysis.
Freeman et. al (2014)2 analysed 225 studies measuring examination results and failure rates using a control and treatment group design3. They found an increase in exam performance for those using active learning of .47 standard deviations and that students in the control group who sat in traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail. Given the significance of these findings the authors question the ethics of continuing to use traditional lecturing as a control group strategy in future studies.
One of the key proponents of the benefits of active learning in science, engineering and mathematics is Professor Carl Weiman, winner of the Nobel prize for Physics, from Stanford University. In this YouTube video he puts forward a compelling, evidence-based argument for teaching STEM using active learning.
What I particulary like about his approach is his underlying theory in designing the active learning experience – that it is about helping students develop expertise needed for expert performance (thus linking to the UTS Model aspect promoting authentic professional practices).
Professor Weiman maintains a website of excellent resources on this topic including:
- Recommended papers on a range of related topics http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/papers.htm
- best-practice use of clickers in the classroom http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/clickers.htm
- a teaching practices inventory http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/TeachingPracticesInventory.htm
The evidence base in this post has been related to STEM. In the next post, I will review the evidence from non-STEM discipline areas.
2 Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP. (2014) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA;111:8410-8415.
3 Note – I am generally not in favour of such experimental designs where human beings are involved since it so difficult to hold everything constant and vary just one aspect