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Learning is More Effective when Active

By: Inas Essa

The concept of active learning has been growing recently. It has become much more of a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges. These have pushed educators to come up with new techniques and activities to engage students and overcome hardships imposed by the novel situation.

What has helped in that is the spread of new technologies and learning methods. Teachers have become more able to implement new technologies in the learning process, rather than traditional methods that have become not as effective as before due to the new circumstances. Now, students need more interaction, engagement, and excitement.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University was conducted to show how and when different approaches to active learning can be effective and engaging.


Active Learning Concept and Approaches

Studies have shown a positive link between cognitive benefits produced by active learning and academic success. That is in addition to socio-emotional support, since it mainly depends on the concept of interaction, rather than traditional ways based on more passive forms of instruction, like lectures. Yet, scientists have been divided between two methods of active learning, as to which one is much more effective: constructive practices or deliberate ones.

The constructive method emphasizes open-ended hands-on exploration by creating or manipulating physical objects and the development of new knowledge through sharing with others. This suggests that learning environments that promote student construction are more effective than ones that promote activity without construction. Moreover, constructive activities enable learners to generate additional outputs or products beyond what is already provided in the learning process.

On the other hand, the deliberate practice involves greater instructional structure and guidance. It emphasizes planned structure especially in the form of goal-specific task design, and immediate, explanatory feedback.

Similar in involving active learning, yet different in method, both deliberate practice and constructivism focus on engaging students in learning-by-doing and on more task-oriented or reactive guidance rather than just telling.



More Deliberate or Constructive Activities?

In the new study, researchers investigated the question: Should we put more emphasis on exploration and construction or more emphasis on deliberately designed tasks with more explicit guidance?

They wanted to know whether active learning is best when it is implemented as guided deliberate practice, as constructive activity, or as a combination of both. To find the answer, the researchers worked on introducing a new genre of Intelligent Science Station technology that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to support children in learning science by doing science in the real world.

An experiment was designed to examine whether physical experience or only interaction and guidance would be more effective in learning about earthquakes. The researchers observed that children learn much more from interaction and guidance around the physical experience of observing actual blocks falling on an earthquake table than from that same interaction and guidance around a flat-screen video of blocks falling on an earthquake table.

The scientists found that children learning through guided discovery and deliberate practice achieve a greater understanding of the scientific concepts than children learning through hands-on construction alone.



Work in Progress

As the new research sheds light on active learning and its practices, the researchers hope that their research will move educators to incorporate more active learning in their lessons. This does not only benefit the learning process, it promotes better comprehension and memory as well.