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Active Learning Is Found to Foster Higher Pass Rates in STEM Courses

Report: “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics”

Authors: Scott Freeman, Mary Wenderoth, Sarah Eddy, Miles McDonough, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Michelle Smith

Organizations: The lead researchers are at the University of Washington. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Summary: The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 225 studies of undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the STEM disciplines. The studies compared the failure rates of students whose STEM courses used some form of active-learning methods—like requiring students to participate in discussions and problem-solving activities while in class—with those of students whose courses were traditional lectures, in which they generally listened.

The studies were conducted at two- and four-year institutions chiefly in the United States and previously appeared in STEM-education journals, databases, dissertations, and conference proceedings. To be included, the studies had to assure that the students in each kind of course were equally qualified and able, their instructors were largely similar, and the examinations they took either were alike or used questions from the same pool.

Results: A 12-point difference emerged. While 34 percent of students in the lecture courses failed, 22 percent of students failed in courses that used active-learning methods.

Bottom Line: Calls for more STEM graduates have long been stymied by attrition in those majors, and introductory courses have often proved to be a big obstacle. Different teaching methods may help remedy that pattern.

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