Research on active learning
A growing body of evidence suggests that “active learning” techniques – where students actively engage course material in class – are a very effective teaching strategy. The benefits of active learning have been studied extensively in a wide-variety of disciplines across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.
The items listed below include both primary and secondary sources from active learning research.
The books are a great place to start if you’re new to education research in higher ed or are looking for an overview of evidence-based teaching more broadly.
The articles are primarily peer-reviewed studies exploring the effectiveness of various active learning techniques.
Links take you to the WashU Libraries e-book version, when available.
- Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, Marie K. Norman, and Richard E. Mayer. 2010. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. 2014. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press.
- Darby, Flower, and James M. Lang. 2019. Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Eyler, Joshua R. 2018. How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
- Lang, James M. 2021. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Link to the 2016 first edition)
- Wieman, C. E. 2017. Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Scholarly Articles
Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, 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, 116(39), 19251–19257. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821936116
Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332(6031), 862–864. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1201783
Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111
Holmes, N. G., Wieman, C. E., & Bonn, D. A. (2015). Teaching critical thinking. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(36), 11199–11204. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1505329112
Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J. K. (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE Life Sciences Education, 10(1), 55–63. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.10-08-0101
Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., Chambwe, N., Cintrón, D. L., Cooper, J. D., Dunster, G., Grummer, J. A., Hennessey, K., Hsiao, J., Iranon, N., Jones, L., Jordt, H., Keller, M., Lacey, M. E., Littlefield, C. E., … Freeman, S. (2020). Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1916903117
Wineburg, S., Smith, M., & Breakstone, J. (2018). What is learned in college history classes? Journal of American History, 104(4), 983–993. https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jax434