One substantial benefit of educational technology is the broad expansion of active learning options available to educators and students. Active learning allows students to engage and interact with educational content, through problem-solving, reading, writing, speaking, listening, collaborating, simulating, and performing activities. By definition, active learning is defined by student participation in the learning process.
In comparison to lecture-based education, active learning has been shown to improve educational results in numerous studies. The underlying advantages are generally intuitive, and mostly uncontroversial, but are nonetheless worth examining.
Looking at lecture-based instruction, we know that most students have trouble assimilating concepts during lectures. Recent studies show that students only hear approximately half of the words spoken by the instructor, with this percentage decreasing as the lecture proceeds over time. By adding visual aids, retention improves by 14-38 percent.
Today's universities tend to record lectures, so student's can review course lectures as many times as they like, improving retention rates. Of course, this review process is, in itself, a form of active learning.
Perhaps the most cited recent scholarly study on active learning was published in 2014, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Most notably, the study showed that active learning students achieved test scores that were 6% higher than their counterparts in traditional lectures. Moreover, the lecture-based students were 1.5 times more likely to fail the course.
Looking beyond this recent study, academics have been evaluating the active learning model for decades. In a 2004 review of the research, Bucknell University's Michael Prince concludes, "...the empirical support for active learning is extensive. However, the variety of instructional methods labeled as active learning muddles the issue." Prince delves into statistical results for a variety of active learning approaches, with this interesting summary:
What do these results mean in real terms instead of effect sizes, which are sometimes difficult to interpret? With respect to academic achievement, the lowest of the three studies cited would move a student from the 50th to the 70th percentile on an exam. In absolute terms, this change is consistent with raising a student’s grade from 75 to 81, given classical assumptions about grade distributions.* With respect to retention, the results suggest that collaboration reduces attrition in technical programs by 22 percent, a significant finding when technical programs are struggling to attract and retain students. Furthermore, some evidence suggests that collaboration is particularly effective for improving retention of traditionally under-represented groups.
So again we see the 6% difference in test scores.
Taking a look at some practical applications of active learning: