Human interaction through active learning is vital to engagement, and we have the research to prove it.

At 360Learning, we’ve spent the last few years analyzing the impact human interaction has on learning performance indicators. The results? We found that interaction changes everything.

Have you ever taken a class that was so engaging it didn’t feel like work at all? The professor asked intriguing questions and let the discussion flow organically. You worked through problems as a team and constructed your own understanding of the topics as you went. You may have even found yourself discussing it outside of class with friends. It all just clicked for you.

This isn’t a coincidence.

This is an example of active learning, a process where the student is involved in actively constructing his own understanding of the subject, often through group interactions and applied thinking.

This method of learning has been scientifically proven to increase a student’s engagement, comprehension, and retention of material. In this article, we’re here to break it all down for you.

Active learning makes a huge difference in engagement

How much of a difference does active learning make? Well as it turns out, quite a big one.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington proved that not only does active learning positively affect a student’s academic performance, but the absence of active learning can actually harm a student’s chances of academic success.

Let’s take a deeper look.

The study, which was published by one of the world’s most-cited multidisciplinary scientific journals, PNAS, was first conceptualized in response to a decline in students earning degrees in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The number of U.S. students entering college with a concentration within a STEM field is already low, to begin with, at less than 40%. Of those of that do concentrate in STEM fields, only 20% end up graduating with a STEM degree.

By attempting to understand what could possibly be causing such a small number of degree achievements, the researchers examined the learning environments used in STEM courses. They asked an interesting question: Which is better for student performance, lecture-based learning, or student-focused active learning?

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Freeman’s research examined the performance of traditional lecturing against active learning.

The team meta-analyzed 225 existing studies that tested student performance in classes with active learning versus traditional lecturing, using two different types of measures in their analysis: exam performance and failure rates.

From their analysis, they made two revolutionary observations:

  1. First, active learning leads to increases in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter.
  2. And second, students taught by traditional lecturing are 55% more likely to fail than students in courses with active learning (Freeman, 2014).

Is this the end of lecture-based learning?

These are important conclusions, as they confirms what we’ve been told our whole lives: actively participating in the learning process causes the student to invest more attention and retain information.

But these results do more than just confirm a theory we already suspected: they open the door to an entirely new discussion altogether.

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Freeman’s research has a lot to say about lecture-based learning and active learning.

What Freeman and his team found could be the catalyst that leads to abandoning lecture-based learning altogether, as this is the first study to prove that passive learning is proven to increase a student's chances of failing. This analysis may pave the way for a new era of active learning.

Why does active learning make such a big difference?

In order to unravel active learning, we must understand why it works in the first place. What makes active learning so much more effective than passive learning? What does it have that lecture-based learning does not?

It all comes down to one thing: Human interaction.

In active learning, the student is forced to discern and practice what they are learning as they’re learning it – something that can only be achieved through human interaction. This is not a process that can be internalized.

Activities that involve collaboration and sharing of ideas among students promote a deeper level of thought and create meaning for the learner (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004).

Online exercises that foster human interaction such as peer discussion, team problem solving, and group tutorials, allow the learner to apply the material learned while simultaneously gauging his level of comprehension through peer validation and feedback.

This is extremely important because human interaction within learning fosters better motivation, stronger retention and comprehension, and above all, it creates a human connection – a key cognitive function which is vital learning.

Put active learning to work for you and your team

Integrating active learning can significantly impact learner success rates, but the power of human interaction goes far beyond test scores: human interaction is key to learner engagement.

At 360Learning, we recognize this importance. That’s why we focus on collaborative activities like discussion, chat, feedback, and newsfeeds, and make these features the heart of our learning platform.

If you’re ready to introduce more human interaction to your learning approach, we offer a free trial of our engagement platform. Give it a try today.