Sadly, it is often the case that what we know and what we do are not the same.
What We Know
Two well-researched facts we know that help students learn:
- When students actively engage with the learning material they retain more of the material (usually called, not surprisingly, active learning).
- To avoid overloading working memory lessons should be broken up into units of no more than 10-15 minutes.
What We Do
Most of us who teach instructor-led courses suffer from a practical problem: We have a lot of material we want to cover in a short amount of time, so the “traditional” lecture is 1 to 1.5 hours in length between breaks, perhaps with some time for Q&A, and maybe even an activity or two, but not much more.
So, What Can We Do To Use What We Know?
In the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, Rachna Bachler and Richa Ghay Thaman, report on the following experiment:
They divided a group of 150 medical students in two. The control group received a standard 50 minute didactic lecture. For the experimental group they changed the format of the lecture in a simple way. Every 12-15 minutes they paused the lecture; the students, in pre-assigned pairs, discussed the mini-lesson, compared notes and asked the instructor for clarification where needed. Fifteen days after the lecture a multiple choice test was administered and the experimental group significantly outperformed the control group.
The downside is that in a one hour lecture you will be giving up 10-15 minutes of lecture time but the benefit in student retention seems well worth it.