On Monday Robert Talbert, associate professor at Grand Valley State University and author of the Casting Out Nines blog, wrote a provocative and important post titled “Active learning as an ethical issue”. Robert noted:
The recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study stands out among these recent studies. It is a meta-study of 225 prior studies on active learning, and the results are bracing: students in these studies who were in classes focused on lecture and direct instruction in the classroom were 55% more likely to fail their courses than their counterparts in active learning focused classes, and scored almost half a standard deviation lower than their active learning counterparts on exams.
This sentence from the PNAS study stopped me in my tracks when I first read it:
“If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discontinued because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial.”
Robert’s central point is that active learning should be thought of as an ethical issue, where it could be considered unethical to withhold treatment. He then asks why faculty might withhold active learning and listed four reasons: self-preservation, laziness, a weird and irrational superiority complex, and legitimate external forces (such as overly controlling school structure).
The argument is an interesting and compelling one based on the study, and it is worth reading the whole article and his follow-up post. I wish we treated teaching and learning more often as an ethical issue,but I would add one additional reason that the active learning treatment is not more prevalent. This one comes from our discussions with faculty and support staff as part of our e-Literate TV series on personalized learning, and Michael and I summarized the point in the introduction episode. Continue reading