M.I.T.’s Technology Enhanced Active Learning

M.I.T. has been debating whether they should ditch the traditional lecture format of introductory physics and go with something better for a while.  Seems like the debate is over: “The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning.”  The result?  Attendance is up and the failure rate is down nearly 50 percent.  The New York Times has an article with more details about the project.

Online educators have championed this kind of learning for… ummmm… ever?  Even though some subjects like physics might not be able to easily make the transition to an online environment, most courses that go online do so with the goal of being hands-on, interactive, and collaborative.

The New York Times article also points out some other interesting facts.  For example, no matter how interesting an instructor is, students still lose interest in long lectures.  I would bet that you could find the same is said about online lecture videos, pod casts, or lecture-based video conference sessions.  I know I don’t find those very engaging for very long.

Another fact that teachers really need to pay attention to is that the human brain has been found to only be able to hold a maximum of maybe seven different items in its short-term memory, and that it can not process more than four ideas at once.  So – watch what all you cram in to those lessons – online or face-to-face.

Although none of this really promotes online education specifically, good distance courses are usually designed the way these M.I.T. courses are.  And, overall, this is a plus for technology in learning in general.

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