The results of the meta-analysis, summarized in the figure above, are remarkable. The left panel shows the difference between student performance on examinations and concept inventories for those in active learning classrooms relative to traditional lecture sections, normalized by the standard deviation of the distribution of scores. Overall, averaged over subjects and studies, we see that student performance in active learning sections increased by approximately half of a standard deviation over performance in traditional sections. The right hand panel demonstrates that the failure rate of students in active learning classrooms was about 10% less than those in traditional classrooms – an effect which, for this sample of students, implies that students in a traditional lecture classroom were 1.5 times more likely to fail than those in an active learning classroom. Finally, it is worth noting that these results are replicated over many studies across a wide variety of STEM disciplines – the results are shown for individual subjects, the number of studies in each subject is noted below the data points, and the estimated uncertainty for each subject is also displayed.
Not surprisingly, these results have prompted many to call for an end to lecturing (only)! These results illustrate why many, perhaps most, of introductory MSU STEM education classes incorporate some active learning regularly. It also explains the focus of the STEM Alliance and affiliated activities on this and related topics.
Perhaps most important, these results illustrate that pedagogical practice matters – and that how we teach, and not just what we teach, is important. This lesson transcends STEM to all subject areas taught at MSU.
(1) Active learning can be defined as “a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content.”(2) Freeman, Scott, et al. "Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.23 (2014): 8410-8415.