Teaching Resources

Active Learning Evidence

Resource Overview

Scholarly articles and books providing evidence about active learning

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.

Selected Highlights


Links take you to the WashU Libraries e-book version, when available.

Scholarly Articles

Links follow the DOIs to the articles’ permanent locations. Articles may also be available through Washington University Libraries.

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

Have suggestions?

If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.