Students say they prefer lectures, but “active learning” is more effective

A recent study measured differences in student learning, comparing the results of traditional lectures (where the students sit passively while the instructor connects all the dots for them) and active learning (where the students get guidance, but have to connect the dots themselves).

Students gave lower ratings to instructors who made them think harder and taught them more. They preferred an instructional method that actually taught them less.

In a “test of learning,” the students got higher objective scores when the instructional method was active learning, but in every subjective question, students favored lectures instead. Students reported that they felt they learned more from the lectures than the active learning sessions, but objective tests proved that was the opposite — they learned more from the instructional method that made them work harder, and they learned less from the method that they said they preferred.

Students who engage in active learning learn more — but feel like they learn less — than peers in more lecture-oriented classrooms. That’s in part because active learning is harder than more passive learning, according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on their findings, the researchers encourage faculty members to intervene and correct what they call students’ “misperception” about how they learn.

“The article does not suggest that students don’t like active learning,” lead author Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and senior preceptor in physics. “In fact the data in the article shows students liked active learning and they felt they learned from it. But it just happened that students felt more positive about a highly-polished version of the same lecture.”

Deslauriers’s article is called “Measuring Actual Learning Versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom.” But he said if he’d had his druthers, it might have been called, “The Dangers of Fluent Lectures.” — Chronicle