Learning as an active process


How do I get students to participate in the lecture?

How do I keep students’ attention?

How do I create sustainable learning through activation?

Very large events in particular often give teachers the feeling that they cannot involve students in a meaningful way. But interactivity and communication can also be realized in large lectures. This brings more fun and tangible benefits for both sides: teachers are relieved by short breaks between lectures, and students have the chance to gain more understanding thanks to active engagement.

Attention curve according to Lloyd
Attention curve according to Lloyd

The psychology of learning has studied how the course of attention develops within a ninety-minute lecture in lecture style. Two peaks show up at the beginning and end of the lecture, about the first and last 10-15 minutes, respectively. The central finding, however, is that mental vitality drops sharply after each 15-20 minutes of lecture, followed by a considerable loss of concentration. By the way, the same applies to the lecturer and the performance of the lecture. The goal of a lecture should therefore be to harmonize this curve through various activities. Attention can be increased again by structuring the content and methodical intervention. However, experience shows that a single intervention as a small island of activity can do little to improve comprehension and students still remain inattentive for a large part of the lecture. An approach that repeatedly alternates lecture and activity phases ("sandwich principle") best takes into account the findings of learning research.

The "Sandwich Principle"

An initial input is followed by a phase of active individual discussion, in which the students have the opportunity to exchange ideas, discuss or individually think through the material again. The joints designate the phases in which the teacher becomes active and, for example, transitions from an input to a work assignment or, following such an assignment, brings the results back to the plenary as an example and introduces the next input phase. This results in a completely new perspective on the planning of courses. Apart from a mix of methods, i.e. a variation of different activities such as experiments, inventing exam questions or guessing questions, a lecture can be structured very well with clicker questions followed by phases of peer instruction (clicker & peer instruction). Discussion of answer choices among students contributes greatly to understanding. Wonderful side effects of this lecture design:

  • In the lecture hall, it becomes much quieter as the energy of the plenary is diverted via active learning phases and also everyone knows that these phases take place on a regular basis.
  • One becomes more responsive to the needs of different learning speeds and types of learners even in a large lecture.

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