Higher education should be about more than lectures: What students do is more important than what they hear
I was reminded of this work by Ken Koedinger in a recent faculty meeting focusing on Georgia Tech’s future strategic directions in education. We got to considering the quality of different courses, and the analysis centered around “materials” (e.g., slides, textbook), “lectures” (the dynamic presentation of the materials), and “assessment” (e.g., exams and homework). That feels like the wrong set of categories to me. The most important category is “What students do to learn.” “Lectures” simply aren’t an important part of student learning.
So it was difficult for me to open my mind to fresh data analysis, from Professor Ken Koedinger of Carnegie Mellon University, which adds more weight to the argument that lectures aren’t an effective way to learn, despite our nostalgic memories of enjoying them. Koedinger didn’t study live lectures, but recorded ones that were part of a free online psychology class produced by the Georgia Institute of Technology. He and a team of four Carnegie Mellon researchers mined the data from almost 28,000 students who took the course over the Coursera platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
They found that video lecturers were the least effective way to learn. Students who primarily learned through watching video lectures did the worst both on the 11 quizzes during the 12-week course and on the final exam. Students who primarily learned through reading, or a combination of reading and video lectures, did a bit better, but not much.
The students who did the best were those who clicked on interactive exercises. For example, one exercise asked students to click and drag personality factors to their corresponding psychological traits. A student would need to drag “neuroticism” to the same line with “calm” and “worrying,” in this case. Hints popped up when a student guessed wrong.