I think we have a fundamental problem in education. Much of this problem comes down to one fundamental idea: the misalignment between how we teach and how students learn.
If you were to choose a random class on campus and walk into one of the lectures, chances are you would find the instructor standing at the front of the room writing on the chalkboard or presenting a PowerPoint slideshow. These chalk-and-talk teaching methods are as old as the education system itself and are pervasive throughout much of academia. The problem is, students don’t learn best this way.
Many teachers view teaching as pouring knowledge into students’ heads, a relationship that centers on the instructor and the role they play in the learning process. But research shows that this isn’t how learning works; learning must be student-centered and conducted as a dialogue between students, their peers, and the instructor.
The readings in class this week emphasize the student-centered approach through several active learning strategies. Both problem-based learning and case-based teaching put the student at the center of the process, requiring them to take an active role in learning the material. Though used for different purposes, these techniques are shown to help in developing critical thinking skills, increasing motivation, and promoting the transfer of knowledge to other contexts. Interestingly, these inductive approaches align with how students learn naturally, allowing them to collect information and draw conclusions about the information they have been given.
A common critique of these active learning strategies is that they take more time to implement than traditional teaching approaches. While this is sometimes true, active learning doesn’t have to be complicated. Students can be given short opportunities to talk with their neighbor about a particular problem or situation to develop a deeper understanding, even in large lecture-based courses. This type of engagement allows the students to play a more active role in the learning process, thereby contributing to better conceptual understanding. Though potentially less impactful than full problem-based or case-based approaches, small opportunities for students to engage in active learning provide a meaningful first step for transforming our classrooms.
In sum, active learning allows for a student-centered approach to teaching. Though traditional, lecture-based teaching certainly has appropriate applications, getting our students more involved in their own learning will create classrooms that are more engaging, more exciting, and more effective.