Measuring Actual Learning

This week, I would like to share a 2019 article entitled, "Measuring Actual Learning vs. Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged" by Deslauriersa, et al. In this research the authors found that "students who engage in active learning learn more -- but feel like they learn less -- than peers in lecture-oriented classrooms." Also, "students liked active learning and they felt they learned from it, but they felt more positive about a highly-polished version of the same concepts."

For the study methods, at the end of the course, students were given a "feeling of learning" and "tests of learning" assessments . All of the "feeling" responses showed a consistent student preference for the passive lecture environment while scores on the tests were significantly higher in the active classroom. The findings suggest that "attempts to measure and evaluate instruction based on students' perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods. The pretest scores are comparable to those of first-year physics majors at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) or the University of Edinburgh.

This outcome adds to a growing lists of reasons why faculty may not integrate active learning strategies. Historical reasons include time (of which there are efficiency models, that can address this); limited resources; lack of departmental support; concerns about content coverage, and teaching evaluations; as well as students resist active strategies. There is recent research that shows "one-third of instructors who try active teaching revert to passive lectures, citing student complaints (Henderson, Dancy & Bugal, 2012).

The authors point to existing literature, which suggests likely factors for the outcome:

  1. the cognitive fluency of lectures can mislead students into thinking that they are learning more than they actually are (Carpenter et al, 2013); and

  2. novices in a subject have poor metacognition and thus are ill-equipped to judge how much they have learned (Porter, 2013).

The authors suggest a third factor, which is that "students who are unfamiliar with intense active learning may not appreciate that the increased cognitive struggle accompanying active learning is actually a sign that the learning is effective."

Deslauriers, L., Logan S., McCarty, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201821936; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1821936116

Henderson, C., Dancy, M., Niewiadomska-Bugaj, M. (2012). Use of research-based instructional strategies in introductory physics: Where do faculty leave the innovation-decision process? Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Ed. 8, 020104.

Carpenter, S., Wilford, M., Kornell, N., & Mullaney, M. (2013). Appearances can be deceiving: Instructor fluency increases perceptions of learning without increasing actual learning. Psychon. Bull. Rev. 20, 1350–1356.

Porter, S. (2013). Self-reported learning gains: A theory and test of college student survey response. Res. High. Educ. 54, 201–226.

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