Lectures date back as far as ancient Greece and Rome, and they were prominent in the European universities in the 13th century. The term ‘lecture’ derives from the Latin word ‘to read’. In the 13th century, most books were extremely rare so one person had to read to many hundreds of people. Since the Industrial Revolution, it seems that everything has been replaced by newer technology, but teaching methods in higher education remain the same. There has been a continuous debate on whether to keep the lecture style or replace it with active learning in education. In her 2015 article in The New York Times, Molly Worthen, who is an Assistant Professor of History at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, added to the fire when she said, “Professors should embrace—and even advertise—lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media”. This claim then set off multiple counter-arguments in response, like the article from the students of an English class at the University of Illinois. The students identified a problem in several recent articles on the topic of teaching methods. They take issue with the fact that many of these essays do not quote “an actual college student, even though students were imagined as the beneficiaries of the discussion”. So they voiced their opinion that not all students are ideal, like the ones to which Molly Worthen teaches. I agree with the University of Illinois students that the educators in America should use active learning to help students retain vital information, increase enthusiasm in learning, and develop higher cognitive thinking.
Since the beginning of the debate surrounding lectures versus active learning, there have been studies to try and provide factual evidence that one form of communicating information to students is better than the other. From these studies, it has shown that “students who participate in the debate format will be more engaged with the subject matter than will students who participate in the lecture format”. So compared to lecturing, the students being taught with active learning techniques are more involved with the material given on the subject. By working more with the material, the students are then able to remember more of the information for the inevitable standardized test. A study was conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) using a college class to observe firsthand active learning versus lecturing and, “These results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning”. This study showed that active learning was more effective in higher education. A six percent increase in test scores is a significant number which can raise students grade by half a letter grade. Active learning helps students immensely in their cognitive function by simply changing how the material is being presented.
Using active learning in higher education involves the students in the education process rather just than sitting in a lecture hall where they are being fed information in fifty-minute segments at a time. Students, especially in college, do not want to attend class because they might think they have better things to do, but active learning can change their perspective. When students attend active learning classes, they “are encouraged to weigh facts, compare arguments from various perspectives, generalize, and reveal fallacies in their own positions and in arguments of their opponent”. Debates are a way that the information can be presented and involve everyone in the class, which is a different alternative than being lectured. People like to argue. A debate is an argument with factual evidence. So by using a teachable topic, the students become enthralled with presenting their side of the debate and trying to win. The debate style of teaching is another example of active learning which “includes collaborative learning, cooperative learning, and problem-based learning”. There are many types of ways to teach an active learning style, but the important idea in active learning is to have the students move around the classroom and manipulate the information given to them so they can understand it better.
During active learning, students will typically work in groups which enhances their critical thinking more than lectures. Studies have shown that “peer instruction has been shown to enhance critical thinking and problem-solving abilities”. Having students work in small groups is another way to implement active learning which has more impact than simply reading information off of a page to a class of a hundred students. In today’s world that is based on science, critical thinking is important to understand the intricacies in science and also democracy. It is important to link connections together so people have the opportunity to change the ideas and technology. Active learning is teaching “students [to] engage in higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation” which will help in innumerable ways from working at Apple to providing new, faster ways to do a task. Developing and enhancing these basic skills will benefit the students long after their days in the classroom.
Based on the conclusions of recent studies, active learning raises the average of students’ test scores as well as increases participation and improves critical thinking. As Miller et al. state, “One could hardly imagine giving an hour-long lecture to a kindergartner on how to tie their shoes or memorize the alphabet; instead, we teach them to use an analogy, sing a song, trace letters, or other active strategies”. If active learning helped us learn the alphabet, then why would it not help us to learn about derivatives?
Image credit to robinsonk26 via pixabay.com