In Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative, Carl Wieman—a Stanford physicist, Nobel laureate, and Carnegie U.S. University Professor of the Year (but let’s not feel intimidated)—advocates active learning, which in a recent NPR interview, he describes as
teaching the thinking that you really want students to learn. How does a physicist think about a problem, or a chemist, and so on, and what decisions do they make, and then you break that problem down into student, bite-sized pieces. You give them to the students to work on. They usually work in small groups. The instructor is monitoring how the students are thinking. What's right, what's wrong. And then will periodically pull them back together every five or 10 minutes to discuss how they are coming along. Give them feedback on what thinking is right or wrong.
Mark Zuckerberg has a similar vision for public schools—for engaging students in self-directed learning, with guiding teachers at their sides.
The benefits of active learning are well-known to teaching psychologists. As Nathan DeWall and I note in our forthcoming Psychology, 12th Edition,
To master information you must actively process it. Your mind is not like your stomach, something to be filled passively; it is more like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. Countless experiments reveal that people learn and remember best when they put material in their own words, rehearse it, and then retrieve and review it again.
For Psychology, 12th Edition, and all of our texts, active learning—via “Concept Practice,” “Immersive Learning,” and “Assess Your Strengths” exercises, and also via simulations and adaptive quizzing—forms the heart of our online resources.
So take it from a Nobel laureate/professor of the year . . . or Mark Zuckerberg . . . or just from Dave and Nathan: To learn deeply and remember enduringly, learn actively.