Sometimes it is difficult researching topics in the psychology of education to generate enough information to write a blogs. This was not one of those topics. Active learning in the classroom has become somewhat of a fad in primary and secondary education, and because of this, more and more research is being conducted in this area of psychology. It was during the research portion of this blog that I realised that Psych 3850-C was based on an active learning format. While many traditional educators have stuck to their guns, claiming that there isn’t any time in the curriculum for what is proposed in active learning, many other educators find active learning to be a very useful tool to put the enjoyment and intrinsic ideologies back into education.
What is active learning? Active learning is simply applying the standard curriculum to a system of education in which there is more engagement from the students, and less rigid participation in the lecture -> notes -> revision -> standardized testing format of traditional education. Traditional education has a focus on finding the easiest, and most efficient way to educate children. The truth is that designing a classroom that involved active learning would not take that much more time! Especially when you consider the benefits of how much more learning gets done when teachers choose to promote active learning. (Li & Sethi, 2006)
The best academic articles for active learning are the ones that seek to quantify how much more useful active learning is over the traditional model. Van Amburgh, et al. wrote an academic paper titled “A Tool for Measuring Active Learning in the Classroom.” The article’s introduction states that the researchers involved in the paper already believed that active learning was superior to the traditional model in place. The reachers still carried an interest in figuring out exactly how successful active learning was in the education of a student. The group of researchers developed a fairly simple mechanism called the Active Learning Inventory Tool that was tested and re-tested in nine different post-secondary classrooms, each with over 100 students. Seven of the instructors were interviewed following their lecture using a scripted interview guide to elicit perceptions of their lesson that included: their definition of active learning, the perceived merits of active learning in the classroom, the types of active-learning activities used in the lecture, the rationale for the use of the specific active-learning activities chosen, the estimated amount of class time that was devoted to active-learning activities, the estimated time required to prepare the lesson and active-learning activities, any perceived barriers to the use of active learning, and the impact of using active-learning
techniques on the amount of content covered. The following outcomes were used to measure agreement among the observers using the Active-Learning Inventory Tool and between the observers and each instructor: number of active-learning episodes used, time per active-learning episode, and the number of different active-learning episodes included in each lecture. (Van Amburgh, et al. 2007)
Using the results of the experiment, the researchers were able to create this Active Learning Inventory Tool, which is able to be used at any educational level (primary, secondary, post secondary), and if performed by the administration of the school, can be used to evaluate exactly how well this new system is working. The ALIT also compiled the active learning methods that were most effective for the intake and memorization of information.
The last source I found also took their research of active learning to the next level. In tandem with the agreement that active learning works, the researchers realized that active learning will only be as successful as the teacher who utilizes it. In other words: a crappy teacher is still going to yield crappy results, regardless of the teaching method being used. Rotgans & Schmidt measured the students’ as well as administrators’ evaluations of the teachers’ performance based on social
congruence, subject-matter expertise, and cognitive congruence, and how much these subject areas contributed to students’ situational interest. It turned out that social congruence and subject matter expertise are not directly related to situational interest, but are two variables that do contribute to the teacher’s cognitive congruence (or how well they are able to get students to understand the concepts that are being taught). Not surprisingly, being friendly, socially and emotionally connected with the students as
well as having a large body of knowledge about a topic are highly predictive of how cognitively congruent a teacher is. (Rotgans & Schmidt, 2010)
The findings of Rotgans & Schmidt revealed two conclusions. First, their data suggests that teacher characteristics and in particular teacher’s cognitive congruence have a significant influence on students’ situational interest; they explained about 20% of the
variance in situational interest. Second, there are ways to correct a teacher with poor cognitive congruence. Either adjust the teacher’s social congruence, or the way they relate to the kids, or increase the teacher’s expert knowledge. Because situational interest is so formulaic, it stands to reason that correcting X or Y could change the result of Z.
The purpose of this blog was not to establish whether active learning is effective (the current research speaks for itself), but to instead investigate what the results of active learning is on our student population. At any academic level, it is important to be able to test the result of using a different educational model, and to be able to understand how to manipulate the learning outcomes of the different model for the best possible academic performance.
Li, M., & Sethi, I. K. (2006). Confidence-based active learning. IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence, 28(8), 1251–1261.