Active Learning Works But Students Don’t Like It

A carefully done study that held students and teachers constant shows that students learn more in active learning classes but they dislike this style of class and think they learn less. It’s no big surprise–active learning is hard and makes the students feel stupid. It’s much easier to sit back and be entertained by a great lecturer who makes everything seem simple.

Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods. This article addresses the long-standing question of why students and faculty remain resistant to active learning. Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning. Faculty who adopt active learning are encouraged to intervene and address this misperception, and we describe a successful example of such an intervention.

The authors say that it can help to tell students in advance that they should expect to feel flustered but it will all work out in the end.

The success of active learning will be greatly enhanced if students accept that it leads to deeper learning—and acknowledge that it may sometimes feel like exactly the opposite is true.

I am dubious that this will bring students around. An alternative that might help is to discount student evaluations so that teachers don’t feel that they must entertain in order to do well on evaluations. As Brennan and Magness point out in their excellent Cracks in the Ivory Tower:

Using student evaluations to hire, promote, tenure, or determine raises for faculty is roughly on a par with reading entrails or tea leaves to make such decisions. (Actually, reading tea leaves would be better; it’s equally bullshit but faster and cheaper.)… the most comprehensive research shows that whatever student evaluations (SETs) measure, it isn’t learning caused by the professor.

Indeed, the correlation between student evaluations and student learning is at best close to zero and at worst negative. Student evaluations measure how well liked the teacher is. Students like to be entertained. Thus, to the extent that they rely on student evaluations, universities are incentivizing teachers to teach in ways that the students like rather than in ways that promote learning.

It’s remarkable that student evaluations haven’t already been lawsuited into oblivion given that student evaluations are both useless and biased.


If not student evaluations then what? Sure, it's better to measure learning but how do you do it?

There are GRE subject exams in Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology, taken by students applying to graduate school. Universities could encourage all majors in those subjects to take those exams, and then one could compare GRE subject scores by school and major. This would measure learning over 4 years rather than learning in a single class. I don't think colleges want to make it easy to compare how much students are learning.

This wouldn't tell you anything about a college's ability to teach students unless all students began college with the exact same knowledge level. Obviously, this isn't the case.

Consider a freshman at Harvard vs. a freshman at Florida A&M. It is entirely possible that Florida A&M has much better teaching methods and Florida A&M students learn more than Harvard students throughout their undergrad across all fields of study. However, the Harvard students are almost always going to score higher on those GRE subject tests and it has very little to do with the teaching methods or learning environment and much more about the type of student that entered that college.

"This wouldn't tell you anything about a college's ability to teach students unless all students began college with the exact same knowledge level."

Can't they administer an exam to incoming freshmen (or maybe sophomores would be better) and then administer it again upon leaving and start looking at the differences.

Maybe the difference between Harvard and Florida A&M might be irrelevant. However the difference between Florida A&M and University of Illinois--Chicago could be informative.

They absolutely could do that, which would help Beliavsky's idea. You would want to track performance for individual students rather than the group. If a school weeds out the lower-achieving students this could inflate performance from freshman year to graduation.

I'm not convinced that humans are analogous to plants that just need watering and nutritious soils. It seems easiest for schools to select for the higher-achieving students by weeding out the lower-achieving students. Anecdotally, my daughter just started kindergarten at one of the higher rated charter schools in my state. The school is very focused on discipline and setting a high bar with grades. They kick out students that don't meet their tough standards. There are about 100 kindergartners, but only about 50 first graders. This inflates their test scores dramatically, but not because they are teaching anything differently than most other schools in the area. The higher achieving students would be doing just fine in 95% of the schools throughout the country.

One additional caveat as Bryan Caplan finds in his education book is the long term stickiness of the subject matter. How much do students remember when they are 10 years removed from school vs. when they are graduating. He finds that students recall very little of what they learned when tested years later.

"If a school weeds out the lower-achieving students this could inflate performance from freshman year to graduation."

Don't we want schools to weed out the lower achieving students? Broadly, you have two options.

Option 1, make the entrance exams (required GPA, etc) so tough that few students can pass but everyone that can is of high quality. Then you can effectively pass everyone through the system with some minimal amount of learning.

Option 2, relax the entrance exams and allow more marginal students into the school with the expectation that some of them will Fail out. However, you can then require a progressively higher standard of scholarship, as those that remain are both capable and disciplined.

I think Option 2 give a much greater chance of marginal students becoming successful.

"Anecdotally, my daughter just started kindergarten at one of the higher rated charter schools in my state. ... The higher achieving students would be doing just fine in 95% of the schools throughout the country."

Ok, but then why did you send your child there? My guess is that you actually feel that the quality of education will be higher there than at the default public school for your area. This looks like a case of revealed preferences.

"Ok, but then why did you send your child there?"

Mainly for the behavior aspect. It also servers as an early test to see where she stacks up intellectually versus her peers since most other schools don't push grades until middle school.

If you can run the gauntlet, it's better to have run the gauntlet so everyone knows you can. If the kid flunks out of kindergarten, no harm no foul.

If the kid sinks 2 years in Harvard and flunks out, that's $140k in tuition and a lifetime of explaining the resume.

That is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.
Brief but very accurate information… Many thanks for sharing this
one. A must read post!

Option 1 is probably a lot cheaper. As a parent, you might prefer Option 1 as well, because things can't be great for the drop-outs in Option 2. Arguably Option 2 is screwing over the kids it's leading on with false promises of success they won't really attain.

It's what the Japanese do for college.

Japanese students and their parents and other responsible adults research the options and the "fit" between student's proven abilities and the universities' known requirements (or rather the average scores of successful applicants) and generally are realistic about what they are getting and what they can attain given their assets.
Primarily what college students are hoping for is to avoid dirty, dull, and dangerous, low-paying, unstable work, or worse.

But how do use that to identify a bad teacher? In college I had an instructor for differential equations who was terrible: his teaching method consisted of mumbling inaudibly into a blackboard on which he was writing illegibly. His midterm was so convoluted and confusing the grad student grading it couldn't figure out the questions. I complained to my academic advisor, and flamed him on the evaluation- the only I ever gave a negative review. You absolutely need a way to get feedback so as to weed out incompetents like that guy (whose contract was not renewed). Professors ought no more be insulated from criticism than anyone else.

Joe, you measure a professor's performance by looking at the students' performance: income, wealth, donations to the college, published papers, citations, number of sons sired, etc.

Evaluating teaching effectiveness at the college level is both easier and harder than people think. Student evaluations provide a limited window into teaching, and often leads to exasperated faculty thinking that what they need to do is entertain. But most courses have learning objectives. These learning objectives can be assessed by providing before/after assessments of actual content, evaluating progress along certain metrics, as well as surveys of students that probe knowledge rather than feelings. This does require more work on the part of the faculty member -- someone needs to crunch the numbers. One of the keys to active learning is also repeated games and exercises that advance knowledge and understanding. This provides an opportunity to measure learning. (I currently engage in this practice in a senior seminar as well as a research methods class, both of which are inverted/flipped/active learning classrooms. I also have a paper I've written up about assessment in my research methods class.)

From anecdotal evidence: best ways to learn is to have a great lecturer, yet have him read a course that is not mandatory. This way only those interested in the specific thing would attend. This, however, also leads to 90% not attending and requires reasonable desire from students and actual understanding from them on what they need for their respective field of work. Other 10% though, they get a great boost. And hopefully, them choosing or not choosing certain courses will actually lead them to having better responsibility further in life.

How many students want to learn?



and how many universities want to teach them anything? Happy students pay the tuition fees, and recommend the university to their friends. When all universities operate on the same principle, students are operating on a level playing field, with respect to the skills of other students.

If some upstart university starts requiring students to learn stuff, the ecosystem will self correct (by students lowing their ratings, reducing enrollment, driving the university out of business).

Isn't there an economics blog anywhere that talks about his kind of stuff?

This guy gets it.

Yep. 20 years ago when I was deciding on a college, I received dozens of brochures. It was quite striking how pretty much none of them mentioned learning. Life experience, having fun, expanding your horizons, and getting a job? Yes. Acquiring knowledge? No.

Learning isn't the product that colleges are selling.

Doesn't the signalling model explain both student hostility to active learning and their tendencies to downgrade such classes in student evaluations? Bryan Caplan's question "What if I had failed all the courses I've forgotten" seems on point. Students realize they're going to forget nearly all of what they learn in nearly all of their classes (and later learn what they really need to know once they get on the job). What they want out of their university classes is the signal with the least amount of effort and risk.

As a thought experiment, imagine the popularity of a university that adopted the novel approach of giving students the final exam for each course only at the end of the following semester. Or perhaps, even better, at some randomly chosen, unannounced date during the following semester. It would be an entirely sensible way of measuring actual human capital acquisition that would be hated by students with the heat of 10,000 suns (But I won't know when to study for my exams! Exactly! You aren't supposed to be able to study -- we want to measure your human capital).

After three decades since leaving university, I still sometimes have nightmares about tests in my hardest engineering classes. Your suggestion is intriguing, but why limit the delayed testing to just a few months after the course? If we’re going to wake up in night terrors regardless, we should just let schools threaten alumni with tests throughout their working lives. We could even let the Development folks couple test schedules with giving campaigns — pay to not play.

This must be up there with suggesting that we make a complex model where both students and teachers and student incoming knowledge level be used to calculate teacher performance from test scores.

I love it!

Learning is hard? Breaking news!

(i) What is "active learning"?

(ii) In my experience part of what is needed at university is unlearning, whether active or passive. "What you believe is demonstrably wrong" and "What you believe is irrational" ought to be substantial parts of a university education.

I think it's analogous to practicing problems in the presence of a coach or tutor. Deliberate practice?

Can someone correct me if I'm wrong?

It just means its not passive. The student is required to do something more than just listen to and record the teachers words. Which can be anything really.

"The student is required to do something more than just listen to and record the teachers words." So most of my undergraduate education was active. My chest swells with pride.

But we all knew the score - there was no need to attend lectures but only a bloody fool would omit to submit essays or would skip labs or examples classes.

Considering the source...

To be fair, the Tags indicate that Alex Tabarrok is a serious teacher.

Alex Tabarrok Rating: 3.2 Level of Difficulty: 4.1

Compare with:
Aisha Yusuf Rating: 5.0 Level of Difficulty: 1.0

Interestingly both Tyler and Alex have a lot of students rating their class.

Tyler = 16 , Alex = 33

The 5 star professors (at least the two with valid links) both have only 1 review.

It's not just the tags that indicate he's a serious teacher. Here's a sampling from the negative reviews:
"This was a hard class because of the amount of material you needed to study for each test."
"This class is far from an easy A. There's no way to cheat the system and pick out what you need to study for the tests because he doesn't you anything."
"our class average was a 60 % i'm a 3.7 student and I got a C. DON'T TAKE IS POSSIBLE!"
"This professor wrote his own book! He thinks everything he says is common sense to everyone and his tests (2 tests, 1 final; 30%, 30%, 40%) are SO HARD. Avoid if possible!!"

It hardly sounds like these people are complaining about the level of education they are receiving.

I had a class with him and I noticed after a few weeks that all the weaker students were switching out of the class. The class was graded on a curve, so I switched out as well.

If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...

In the class I switched into I received the highest grade in the class of over 100 students.

Were you taking the class to learn or to get a grade?

Well, since these geniuses have figured out a neutral and objective way to measure learning, I’m sure they can figure out the rest. I’ll leave it to them because I wouldn’t have discounted enthusiasm about learning from educational outcomes.

Exactly! It's up to teachers/professors to come up with a decent independent performance metric. Indeed, with the increased use of standardized testing most public schools are starting to pay attention to individual teacher quality.

At what stage in active learning do they teach when to use an apostrophe?

totally matches my experience as a private tutor.
the moment i try to make my students work the start searching for reasons why i am a bad tutor. as long as i just explain theyre happy with me. classic problem with consulting. the client, parent, child comes to you with their own beliefs how things work most effectively.

I have no idea, can you split the difference and sneak the active learning in?

Stealth Active FTW?

No. It would start with waking them up.

The active part is the student actually doing something other than listening. Being called on to explain, discussions, or some kind of project where they need to participate.

I suspect it can be done in a way that is fun and interesting, but learning difficult things is uncomfortable, even physically. The satisfaction comes at the end when you have grasped a difficult concept, but in between it is just grunt work.

Ultimately it is up to the student, and they must be allowed to fail. Maybe if you don't like fluid dynamics you shouldn't be a physicist.

You can set up the active learning with a presentation (read: lecture), and then ask them to put the information to work. In a "flipped" classroom, the presentation/lecture is part of students' preparation for class, with f2f class time devoted to doing something other than listening to a lecture.

That sounds insane. Everyone knows the best way to learn complex tasks is to listen to someone talk for an hour and then read about it on your own.

" Student evaluations measure how well liked the teacher is. Students like to be entertained."

Alex Tabarrok phrased that poorly.

The correct phrasing should be:

" The customer evaluations measure how well liked the teacher is. Paying customers like to be entertained."

The issue here is one of value. Teachers/Professors should be measured and held accountable on performance metrics. So, it's fine if Professors can reach and agreement with the students (paying customers) to have their pay defined by a different performance metric .

It's probably the best way to flag instructors who treat teaching as their absolute last priority after research, grant applications, conference travel, seminars, admin, consulting and business ventures. Plenty of faculty who will put in the least amount of effort possible.


I don't know if you have read Learning Versus Performance: An
Integrative Review by Soderstrom and Bjork (2015)

"The primary goal of instruction should be to facilitate long-term learning—that is, to create relatively permanent changes in comprehension, understanding, and skills of the types that will support long-term retention and transfer. During the instruction or training process, however, what we can observe and measure is performance, which is often an unreliable index of whether the relatively long-term changes that constitute learning have taken place. The timehonored distinction between learning and performance dates back decades, spurred by early animal and motor-skills research that revealed that learning can occur even when no discernible changes in performance are observed. More recently, the converse has also been shown—specifically, that improvements in performance can fail to yield significant learning—and, in fact, that certain manipulations can have opposite effects on learning and performance."

The problem of easy learning is that students can't monitor how much they know.

"At the end of each class period, students completed a brief
survey to measure their FOL followed by a multiple-choice TOL."

A multiple choice test at the end of a class period is a performance test not a test of learning. How much can they remember and apply to a new problem a month later would be a much better test of learning.

If it's good enough for Socrates. What "active learning" requires is in-depth (critical) preparation for class - because one never knows when she is it. Most law schools use the "active learning" method. What one learns from the experience is that the students come to rely on a good "active learning" experience by the other students; otherwise, the "active learning" is useless. Thus, there's pressure not only from the professor, but the students as well.

The professor asked me a question I didn't prepare for, made me look like a fool. He should be paid less. Or fired preferably.

I don't know. In my work I deal with circumstances where there is much at stake, I have very limited time to decide on the correct course of action and if I make a mistake there is likely a serious monetary cost. Or worse. I don't think I'm the only one. If a student can't answer a tough question that is valuable information, mostly to the student themselves.

Fwiw, I thought it would be a very rayward transition to go from this study to "would it take active learning for Trump voters to understand what they had wrought?"

Actually, Trump voters are giving the rest of America and the world the middle finger; indeed, the more chaos Trump causes, the more they like him. Conservatives they are not: conservatives value order and stability, definitely not chaos. Libertarians have a natural affinity for anarchy, but with Trump the appeal may be less about anarchy than authoritarianism; like the crazy uncle kept in the attic, it's the libertarian-authoritarian axis they would prefer not to discuss.

The bit about libertarians and anarchy is interesting. I'm not sure they'd endorse it, but an element of it might be true.

All told the Never Trump conservatives might be the only ones to come out looking good. And not the quiet ones, neither.

With one of the most important teachers in my life we hated each other. But he was what I needed when I needed it. It took me years to figure that out. God help us all if his job and pay relied on anonymous student survey evaluations.

This guy students.

Interesting that Tabarrok focuses on student resistance when the paper finds instructors are also resistant. Students will rationally maximize their return on investment and avoid time and effort sucking instructors when a better GPA/grade and less cost proposition instructor alternative is available. But fixing the supply side would require some minimal level of discipline that colleges and universities continuously demonstrate is completely beyond their institutional capacities. Tabarrok's whinging provides an interesting contrast to the quiet desperation displayed by the title character in John Williams' Stoner. Is Cowen still Dean? Maybe Tabarrok should have a little heart-to-heart?

100% matches my life experience. I despised active learning and from high school onwards I began devising schemes to skip the days on which I knew active learning was deployed. I felt it mostly insulted my intelligence and taught me nothing.

I did notice that a lot of my classmates expressed a preference for it, though.

What about the long-term? 20 years later, do you recall anything from your boring active learning prof? Probably at least something from your most entertaining prof, though...

I wouldn't underestimate entertainment, which can come in a variety of forms, either; and ranking or no, the rate-your-prof website actually makes it clear Alex T. *is* entertaining. The kids who downvoted him because he was hard or even unfair at grading time, will probably not later remember their performance in his class, but they'll remember him.

I favored the pursuit of B's in easy classes too long ago to have experience with "active learning," but those of us at State U were such formless clay, that a teacher definitely earned his pay "merely" entertaining us. I remember a lady English professor with an outsize, slightly ridiculous personality, given to complaining that she couldn't buy a cup of coffee in the student union on her salary; on fire with the love of 17th century poetry and prose; hated modernity - Yeats in particular; claimed not to have read anything written after 1920; fascinated with numerology, fervently Catholic to the point of getting a family member exorcised, on a fruitless quest to "prove" that her beloved Donne met Shakespeare at some point. She had the gift of gab, which helped - but imagine, she had to make her subject interesting to us naifs from the suburban provinces. We didn't come from fancy schools, we had no knowledge of the classical world or Christianity with which to grasp the literature of the period in question. Exasperated once at trying to get us to appreciate something like "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day," she pleaded, "Didn't any of you even attend Vacation Bible School?" But year after year her class was popular.

An end-of-semester ritual: the student government would put out tables covered with butcher paper. Space for not merely every teacher, but every class. You could write your opinion of said, and read others if you liked so as to inform your choice for next semester. And then at the end of the week, they crumpled it up and threw it all away, which strikes me as much more accurate an evaluation of students' evaluations, than that which immortalizes them on the internet.

The evaluation craze generally: it has been a long time since I convened with others to do any minor thing, that we weren't handed a piece of paper as we were trying to get away, please fill this out so we'll know how we did ...

Wow, strange to see economists writing about how a customer's actual satisfaction about a paid service should be disregarded. Until I see that said economists are teachers who don't like being graded by their customers.
My recollection from my MBA program days 18 years ago was that there was a pretty good correlation between average survey scores and teaching quality. And the really bad professors did get scored low. I'd expect that without such feedback, such professors would have been even worse still. I'm sure intelligent schools could use these surveys even better by including additional data such as grades.

The point of going to a prestigious university is to get a prestigious credential and join the alumni network, both of which open doors for you for the rest of your life. University is a kind of years-long vacation sandwiched between working really hard earlier to get admitted and working really hard later on your career. Grade inflation ensures that everyone gets a pleasingly high GPA. An occasional by-product of this process is a smattering of textbook learning. STEM departments may sometimes be diehard holdouts against this otherwise universal trend. It is by no means only in the US that this happens.

This blog (AT) has been beating the drum about active learning forever. After reading about it here, I did a bit of research. Despite what AT says, there's no consensus that AL is what he claims, and quite a bit of doubt.

Oh, and how about this: rather than ignore student appraisals, weight them by previous 18-36 month GPA. Ignoring student feedback makes zero sense!(IMHO)

I distrust fads. I always loved my lecture classes when I was an undergrad, and hated the classes that deviated from the traditional lecture. I'm there because the professor has the information that I want, not me or the other students. Taking notes engages the brain, and the course readings are a good supplement. I realize that students have different "learning styles," but the traditional lecture and course readings always worked great for me. Don't fix what's not broken. I fear that these "improvements" are driven by misplaced egalitarian impulses combined with neophilia on the parts of the "educrat" class.

It's not clear to me that "learning" should be the only goal of an introductory course like the one in this study. The faculty may also want to make the material somewhat entertaining, and even inspiring, so that students will continue to study it in the future (at the expense of learning in the introductory course). Do the authors have a follow-up study of the relative fractions of students in the two populations who continued with physics?

This is interesting because it is the exact opposite of what Alex has been saying regarding direct instruction for a long time (i.e. that direct instruction is better than active learning). I don't know why Alex does not address this fact.

At least when it comes to STEM subjects, there have been lots of studies done that show that active learning is demonstrably better for student outcomes. A few years ago a meta-analysis was published in PNAS on this subject.
"Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics"

Across hundreds of various studies, the authors found, among other things, a significant decrease in failure rates, and a small but significant increase in exam scores, for active learning classes vs. traditional lecture classes. The TL;DR summary from the article itself: "This is the largest and most comprehensive metaanalysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date. The results raise questions about the continued use of traditional lecturing as a control in research studies, and support active learning as the preferred, empirically validated teaching practice in regular classrooms."

About a decade ago, Carl Wieman - incidentally a Nobel laureate in physics, though he's been doing research in education for just as long - started the "science education initiative", based on his research and experience with active learning in science. There's lots of information on this out there. In contrast to the article Alex posted above, he has shown that attendance rates increase dramatically in active learning classrooms as compared with traditional lectures, which, along with lots of other data, suggests that students do indeed like it more. He has a whole book on the SEI ( As with the PNAS paper above, his research shows unequivocally that traditional lectures are worse in every measure as compared with active learning.

It is worth noting that the above information is regarding STEM courses at the college level. It may very well not be the case in subjects like econ or the humanities, I have no idea.

The shift from English to Accounting is an after effect. The shift from science to social work is the kicker. Professors aren't accountable like they used to be; why should students?

So in this case we are supposed to ignore feedback from the consumers (customers) because they provide no or negative information about the quality of the product (learning)? A very clever formulation of a classic totalitarian argument...

Perhaps education is a racket and actual learning is not what is really wanted anyway by students who are forced to attend.

I remember the course I took in the history of economic thought long ago, because the lecturer was interesting, i remember the econometrics teacher who clearly explained everything using visual intuition not so much math, the statistics professor who was a bit quirky but covered the basics and had a dry humor. I don't remember a single project I ever did.

The problem with higher education is that there is no incentive for the students to become more educated; there is only an incentive for them to get a degree. Because the standards for the degree are set by the institution and faculty who are being paid by the students (and their parents), students have market power to demand easier classes from the institution and faculty.

You break this loop by having an outside body that evaluates the students. It would revolutionize high school and higher education if employers banded together to offer tests of competency in various skill areas of interest to employers, but only if those tests were conducted independently of the school systems and universities. Business doesn't want to get involved in testing potential hires for skill levels; their respect for the bachelors degree as a sign of skill and virtue is what drives this whole system. If there was a system to test for skills independent of the education establishment, and if high school and non-professional bachelors degrees were (rightly) dismissed as near useless signals of ability, education would change, dramatically.

Is the business world prepared to write that test? Not currently, but eventually they should clue into the fact that students are not well prepared for work, yet need high salaries to pay off their debts. It is in business' interest to change the system.
Can such a set of tests actually evaluate skill levels? That is a much harder question, and if those tests existed, much of education would function to teach to the test. But that's OK; most people are in University for job training; for those people, we should be teaching to give them the job skills that employers desire.

I teach engineering, where outside accreditation bodies demand certain standards of academic departments and students, but professors still play too much of a role in setting those standards, employers complain of ill-prepared students, and students lobby for easier courses, with some success. But it's much better than Arts and Science degrees, where there are really no standards.

Is this post consistent or inconsistent with these previous posts by Alex?

"Student evaluations measure how well liked the teacher is."

That is precisely the idea, General. That is precisely the idea.

Hint: Student evaluations aren't quite as commonly used in employee training courses. Including courses training instructors at the same schools that use evaluations religiously in the actual teaching courses -- that is, the ones the students are paying for.

Adjunct faculty, in particular, are commonly glorified customer service reps (and are assumed to know this and act accordingly).

Student evaluations are simply the academic version of customer surveys.

The fact that student evaluations measure how well liked a teacher is doesn’t mean that those students aren’t also learning from that person, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they learn more from professors who aren’t well liked or have a preference for lecturing.

After having taught foreign languages for a couple of years before going back to Uni for my masters, I realised how absurdly bad teaching methods are in universities for non-language subjects (and often languages as well). It's as if decades of research on pedagogy has been completely ignored in the institutions that should respect research more than anywhere else.

But this article seems to show why... There's the same effect in language classrooms; it takes students who are unused to interactive classes at least a few classes to get used to it, but because it's so clearly the more effective method, and more fun, students prefer it in the long run.

A quick critique: I don't think the RCT managed to capture or control for teacher skill in the study; it just says 'active learning using best practices'. I suspect if there was the kind of skill and virtuosity you see in high quality foreign language teaching, these results might not hold up.

Project Follow Through came to this conclusion decades ago...educators hate it because it's work.

This article could not be more wrong. Active learning used to be called the "Montessori Method". It's the idea that a classroom is primarily a social environment. Nothing is more important than teaching the kids how to create healthy relationships with each other. In a Montessori classroom, all students study both independently; and in cooperation with others. At all times, stress is placed on allowing the students to see how the material which they study is relevant to real life. There are plenty of field trips and visitors. Also, cross-generational friendship is encouraged. A tenth grader will gladly help a fourth grader with math for an hour, and then a twelfth grader will help the tenth grader. The whole idea is to build a community of young people who know how to love, how to express friendship, and to help each other. In other words, to become whole people. There is also a garden, games, lots of experiments, and maybe a pet rabbit; everything the kids need to have a good time. That's the whole point: active learning means having a good time. At a Montessori school, the kids look forward to each new day. But there's a catch: a Montessori school needs kids who are good people. There's no room for miscreants. For that reason, the public school system could never use the Montessori Method.

That doesn't mean that our schools should descend to the lowest common denominator, as it does now. It means that the miscreants shouldn't be here at all.

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