Workplace training isn’t exactly like college. But if there was a simple technique that reduced failure rates for college students by a third and added nearly an entire letter grade to their scores, wouldn’t you try it out in your training?
There is, and you’ve no doubt heard of it: active learning.
The idea of giving learners hands-on experience has been around forever, of course. But a new meta-analysis shows how powerful it can be.
Researchers analyzed 225 published studies on undergraduate science and math education. They compared the results of lecture-based courses with classes that incorporated active learning strategies, including group activities like role plays and solitary activities such as written reflection.
The study results were striking: In courses that incorporated active learning, failure rates were a third lower than in lecture-only courses. Furthermore, active learning raised students’ grades by an average of six percent, which is nearly an entire letter grade.
You need both
Other research has shown that active learning shouldn’t entirely replace passive learning techniques such as lectures, videos or e-learning modules. That’s still the best way to deliver information and context. But when you combine these “telling” techniques with hands-on work, results soar.
The reason: Active learning facilitates consideration, exploration, practice and reflection. This deep processing promotes a greater understanding of the material and the activity itself enhances recall.
For example, a group discussion will prompt learners to think more critically about the training content, and also will act as a reinforcement event that helps people remember what they learned.
Here are four active learning techniques that you can add to your training programs for little to no cost:
Discussion. Whether instructor-led or conducted in small groups, discussion promotes analysis, debate and critical thinking. Give learners a prompt to get the discussion going.
Questioning. In the research, professors often had students read their textbook or watch their online module at home, and most classroom time was dedicated to questioning the students about what they’d learned – in other words, less telling and more asking.
Written reflection. Provide learners with an opportunity to quietly reflect on the learning experience and determine how they will deploy new concepts in the workplace. (Caveat: individual activities don’t give you the added benefits of social learning that come from group activities.)
Learning by teaching. Give learners an opportunity to teach others what they’re learning. For example, have different learners prepare and deliver lectures, based on material you provide. Or have them train co-workers. In a self-directed environment, consider having learners write out a lesson. That forces them to dive deep into the content even if they don’t actually teach the lesson.
Freeman, S., et al. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2014. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111.
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