Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Manchester (2010) Proc Physiol Soc 19, PC78

Poster Communications

Can active learning in lectures improve student understanding and retention?

L. E. Montgomery1, A. Al-Modhefer1

1. Queens University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom.


In many institutions the didactic lecture is the predominant method of disseminating biomedical science knowledge, despite the fact that their effectiveness has been challenged. McIntosh (1996), among others, suggests that didactic lecturing is a passive process in which there is very little opportunity for questioning or immediate practice. There have been many articles published on the benefits of active learning (Michael, 2006). Yet, it seems for the foreseeable future that we will continue to be reliant on the lecture as an economical teaching method. We suggest that the lecture could be modified to encourage active learning, with the inclusion of questions and tasks. The aim of this study was therefore to design and implement a way of comparing the learning outcomes of the same lecture given in both didactic and active styles. Ethical approval for the study was granted by the University Ethics Committee and consenting students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Two lectures were studied, with a didactic and active version of each lecture being produced. Each lecture was given twice, once to each group, the group allocated the active lecture in the first session where given the didactic one the second time round and vice-versa. This meant that the students had experience of both approaches and could compare the methods via a questionnaire. It also helped to avoid the possibility of the academic superiority of one group affecting the outcome. At the end of each lecture the students were presented with a short written test, designed to assess both simple recall and depth of understanding. The questions in the test were not the same as those used during the active lecture. Results are expressed as mean ± standard error, and an unpaired t-test was used for comparison. The test marks were significantly higher in the active learning group compared to the didactic group, for both lectures. In the first lecture on muscle the mean active mark was 74.39± 2.64% (n=39,) compared to 60.01±2.79% (n=39, p<0.001) for the didactic lecture. In the second lecture, with the groups reversed, the mean mark for the active group was still significantly higher at 59.07±3.96% (n=35), compared to 44.39±1.99% (n=33, p<0.002) for the didactic lecture. When the students were asked to compare the two methods 85% said they preferred the active method. Among the reasons they gave was that it makes you more focussed on and engaged with the material. Of the 15% who preferred the passive method, they stated that it was easier to follow, quicker and they preferred not to answer questions in front of an audience. The results of the study provide evidence that it is possible to make a lecture interactive. Furthermore, the results suggest that an active approach is beneficial for obtaining and sustaining the student’s attention.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements