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Active Learning

Active Learning

Although the transition from traditional lectures to active learning methods can be difficult for faculty, those who have used the techniques successfully say they will never teach the old way again.
Steven Hall
Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
TEAL classroomVisualization graphicProf. Boyce in the Park Room

The process of learning should engage the imagination—both of students and of faculty. So MIT set about transforming university education from a string of passive lectures in introductory courses into an intense, active, personalized and highly collaborative adventure. The key: more flexible modes of learning that better stimulate discovery and improve understanding of conceptual material. These projects have been implemented in the past five years:

  • Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate—CDIO: Developed in partnership with engineering schools across Europe and beyond, a new model of engineering education recasts the fundamentals in the context of concept, design, implementation and operation.
  • Technology-Enabled Active Learning—TEAL: TEAL replaced large, passive introductory courses by merging lectures, recitations and hands-on experiments. Grouped nine-per-table, the students work together, using computer simulations, conducting experiments, and learning from each other as well as their professor.
  • xTutor: Course Transfiguration: Another transformative approach for introductory courses eliminates most large semi-weekly classes. Instead, students use interactive technologies—on-line tutorials, self-testing with automatic feedback—to learn at their own pace.

The verdict on active learning is in. There has been a measurable gain in comprehension and retention for students of all abilities. Equally important, students are much more satisfied with their experience—and hence, more engaged in and committed to their education. Based on this demonstrated success, more faculty at MIT and beyond are expected to embrace these techniques.


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Active Learning
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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