Students’ assessment of their own learning

An interesting study was published a few months ago comparing active learning to traditional lectures. While many studies have shown that active learning results in higher student learning, this study also examined how students assessed their learning in each of these types of classrooms. Students thought they learned less in the active learning environment, even though the data showed they learned more.

The article: “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom”, by Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, Kristina Callaghan, and Greg Kestin, appears in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 24, 2019 116 (39) 19251-19257. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821936116

We compared students’ self-reported perception of learning with their actual learning under controlled conditions in large-enrollment introductory college physics courses taught using 1) active instruction (following best practices in the discipline) and 2) passive instruction (lectures by experienced and highly rated instructors). Both groups received identical class content and handouts, students were randomly assigned, and the instructor made no effort to persuade students of the benefit of either method. Students in active classrooms learned more (as would be expected based on prior research), but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. This suggests that attempts to evaluate instruction based on students’ perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods. For instance, a superstar lecturer could create such a positive feeling of learning that students would choose those lectures over active learning. Most importantly, these results suggest that when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning. That disconnect may have a detrimental effect on students’ motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning. Although students can, on their own, discover the increased value of being actively engaged during a semester-long course, their learning may be impaired during the initial part of the course. We discuss strategies that instructors can use, early in the semester, to improve students’ response to being actively engaged in the classroom.

For further discussion of this, see:

For more interesting teaching and learning resources, see my page on pedagogy resources!