Two years ago, President Obama announced his goal to increase the number of STEM graduates by one million over the next decade. In an effort to reach that goal, the President just announced the Department of Education’s new $60 million First in the World (FITW) grant competition to drive innovation in higher education— with a special emphasis on moving beyond the traditional format of lectures of instruction to more active learning approaches.
What is an active learning approach? It is a hands on method of learning that provides students with real world problems to work through to build usable critical thinking skills, as opposed to lectures where the information is handed to the students outright. Over 150 studies have shown that students in classes with traditional lectures were 50% more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning. Interestingly, some educators have expressed the belief that poorly delivered lectures can ultimately be more effective than well-delivered ones because the students’ confusion resulting from a bad lecture causes an active process – they have to figure out the content instead of passively taking the information.
Obviously, we don’t want our students being given bad lectures, so the way to get that same result is to have teachers learn and execute active teaching methods in the classroom. For ideas on how do so, check out this White House blog post on active learning techniques.