Random Thoughts on Passive Learning and Lectures

This quote got me thinking this morning.

“Passivity isn’t wrong because it’s boring; it’s wrong because it doesn’t work”

Daniels, H., and Bizar, M. (2005). Teaching the best practice way: Methods that matter. Portland, OR: Stenhouse. (quote brought to my attention by this article Rethinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning.

I recently came across a study called Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics written by a host of researchers, Scott Freemana,1, Sarah L. Eddya, Miles McDonougha, Michelle K. Smithb, Nnadozie Okoroafora, Hannah Jordta, and Mary Pat Wenderotha which basically indicates the same thing.

The study of 225 studies stated that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use active learning techniques.

And a really interesting quote about the article was published at Science Magazine which had a Harvard person saying:

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.”

This was attributed to Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the study indicated above.

And this web site explaining what I would call common myths about lecturing and the evidence, or lack of evidence about the effectiveness is downright unnerving:

Myth: Lectures are the best way to convey information.

Feedback: Inconclusive evidence. Lectures can be effective for conveying information – but not more so than a whole range of other methods, including independent study of textbooks.

Lectures are the best way to develop students’ understanding and thinking.

Feedback: Contradicted by evidence. Developing understanding requires active effort by students and most lectures make students passive and so are much less effective than a range of alternatives that involve more active learning.

Lectures are the best way to develop students’ attitudes and beliefs.

Feedback: Contradicted by evidence. Attitudes are changed by engaging in open debate, and one-way communications are relatively poor at changing what people believe.

Lectures are the best way to inspire interest in the subject.

Feedback: Contradicted by evidence. While a few lecturers manage to inspire their students, most do not. Lectures rarely lead to more subsequent study effort than do other methods.

See the rest of the list here.

The evidence does not look too good for lectures.

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Karl Kapp
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