The Argument for Active Learning

Multiple studies have shown that active learning is more effective than lecturing at achieving educational outcomes. One large 2014 meta-analysis of STEM classes found that average student failure rates decreased from 34% to 22% and that average student performance improved by half a letter grade when active learning replaced traditional lecturing. Given these findings, imagine the savings in tuition dollars if active learning were to be widely implemented. When it comes to assessments, researchers looked at concept inventories (which measured higher-level cognitive skills) and course examinations (which measured lower-level cognitive skills). While both higher- and lower-level skills were improved, they found that “active learning has a greater impact on student mastery of higher-versus lower-level cognitive skills”. In addition, the authors found that active learning disproportionally benefitted female and disadvantaged students.

The case study method, which encourages students to step into the shoes of a case study protagonist to wrestle with a real-world dilemma, is a proven active learning pedagogy.  The use of discussion and problem-solving via a case study can heighten student engagement, critical analysis, and reflection, thus creating conditions that foster transformative learning.  This can be true for both small groups and large classes, either peer-directed or facilitated by an instructor.

By using these case studies in your classroom, you can encourage innovation and inclusivity while you watch student outcomes improve.


Freeman, S., S. L. Eddy, M. Mcdonough, M. K. Smith, N. Okoroafor, H. Jordt, and M. P. Wenderoth. “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 23 (2014): 8410-415. Accessed March 13, 2018. doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.