‘Deep Learning Is Hard Work’

Highly interesting research on teaching.

By Beckie Supiano September 12, 2019

Reported here by The Chronicles of higher Education

A new study out of Harvard University confirms what many instructors probably suspect: Students believe they learn more from a well-done lecture than when they engage more directly in their own learning. Yet they often learn better in that more active environment.

The reason? “Deep learning is hard work,” said the study’s lead author, Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning and a senior preceptor of physics, in a news release. “The effort involved in active learning can be misinterpreted as a sign of poor learning. On the other hand, a superstar lecturer can explain things in such a way as to make students feel like they are learning more than they actually are.”

Published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study compared undergraduates in a large introductory physics course. Twelve weeks into the course, half were randomly assigned to an active-learning classroom while the other half attended “highly polished” lectures. The groups were then flipped the following week. After each class, students were asked how well they liked the experience and how much they felt they had learned. They were also tested on what they learned through a multiple-choice exam.

Overall, students preferred the lecture and felt that they learned more from it, compared with those in the active-learning classroom. Yet students from the active-learning class scored higher on the exam.

One lesson from this experiment, Deslauriers and his co-authors said, is that it would help to explain to students upfront the benefits of active learning, to help counteract the frustration that comes with the first encounter.

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