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Brookings Report - Learning About Learning: Meaning Matters

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This new report from the Brookings Institute outlines effective and non-effective learning strategies in educational settings from kindergarten through college. From data gathered by a study conducted by the Knowledge Matters Campaign, it’s deduced that interactive, hands-on learning, regardless of the educational material or concept, is a much more effective learning strategy than traditional, passive instruction.  

Professor Noah Finklestein, of the Physics Department at the University of Colorado, conducted research on learning attitudes and student beliefs and structures his classroom around those findings.  This research suggests that college students usually learn less than 25 percent of basic concepts that they did not already know in introductory physics courses. Furthermore, the students do not see the relevance of the content to their lives. Finkelstein coordinates classroom material to be in an “interactive-engagement” style of learning, where students work in small groups and apply the content in computer simulations and hands-on activities. The data show that student-learning outcomes of the most seasoned lecturers are equal to the lowest performing interactive-engagement classrooms, and when done well, the interactive-engagement format vastly outperforms the top lecturers with students learning more than double the physics content.

The report compares this research with early childhood education methods. Researchers Molly Welsh Chilston and Linnea C. Ehri published their findings on research done on vocabulary learning with third graders. They taught third graders six unfamiliar verbs presented in either a coherent context—like a birthday party—or as a set of matched but unconnected contexts. Children learned more of the words when they were nested within a theme than when they were more independent. This hard evidence suggests that using a hands-on, interactive approach to learning greatly enhances the probability of actually remembering what you’re learning. 

ATE projects and centers may find this report of use when considering classroom activities or how to incorporate an interactive-engagement lesson into a curriculum.

Please visit the Brookings Institute to view the report in full.   

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