Spotlight on Innovation: Purdue To Study Why Active Learning Works

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Active learning models are becoming more common - but do we know why they're effective? Researchers at Purdue are investigating.


The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar "First in the World" grants to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

by Lisa Cook & Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions

Active learning models are becoming more common as professors seek to engage a wider array of students. Project-based learning, clickers, flipped classrooms and other strategies have transformed classrooms -- but little scientific research has been done to determine why active learning models are successful. Knowing that could guide more targeted pedagogical strategies.

Researchers at Purdue University plan to address this gap through a $2.3 million First in the World grant that will allow them to conduct a large-scale controlled study about why active-learning strategies improve student retention and completion rates. Four years ago, Purdue began transforming large-enrollment courses from lecture-based courses to ones with active, student-centered learning as part of Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation (IMPACT) four years ago. IMPACT has already replaced 120 lecture-based courses with an active-learning approach. By the 2016-17 academic year, Purdue expects that number to rise to 300.

Now Purdue will build on that success in undertaking a new study. We spoke with Chantal Levesque-Bristol, director of the Center for Instructional Excellence and a professor of educational studies, to learn more about the new undertaking.

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