Companies & Universities, Learning

Improving Learning Outcomes: The Power of Active Learning

Tired woman in front of computer

What is Active Learning?

When it comes to retaining new information, which methodology is best for learners: Active Learning or Passive Learning? –Remember those classes in high school when your teacher stood in front of the class and for an hour just talked at you while everyone furiously took notes that they would later memorize? That’s Passive Learning. Active Learning, on the other hand, requires students to interact and do meaningful tasks while thinking about what they are doing.

Unlike passive learners, active learners are more engaged, learn the material in less time, and learn more effectively.

Active Learning Engages Students More

Being engaged during the learning process is arguably one of the most important conditions for retaining information. When learning passively via media such as lectures or lengthy videos, the potential for the student’s mind to wander is high and only increases as time passes. But when students are learning actively, they are constantly engaged with the material–manipulating objects, answering questions, and getting immediate feedback. For example, Smartly learners are required to interact with the material an average of every 8.7 seconds. This high level of engagement is extremely effective, and one of the reasons why Smartly’s approval rating is consistently above 96%.


Active Learning is Faster

Because interaction is required when learning actively, time spent not listening, zoning out, or generally being distracted is reduced. Additionally, students experiencing Active Learning spend more time “learning by doing” and require less repetition in order to perform operations or demonstrate knowhow. These benefits mean that learning happens faster, and more time can be devoted to additional study or other productive efforts.

Greater Efficacy with Active Learning

When the desired learning outcome is for the student to retain the maximum amount of information taught and apply it in class, the workplace, or life, Active Learning proves to be much more effective than Passive Learning. In a study performed by Ruhl et al., researchers found that Active Learning was in fact more effective in terms of both short-term and long-term retention. In the short-term, students who learned actively were able to recall 35% more facts that those who learned passively. And, Active Learners on average performed 11% better than their Passive Learning counterparts when given a multiple choice test later in the learning process. [1]

When we consider that learning actively creates an educational environment that is more engaging, faster, and more effective than Passive Learning, it is clear that Active Learning is the better choice.


[1] Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research

[2] Active versus passive teaching styles: An empirical study of student learning outcomes

[3] Everyday attention and lecture retention: the effects of time, fidgeting, and mind wandering

Companies & Universities

Corporate Training Programs: What Are They Really Worth?

Young man surfing in waves

Companies in the US spend over $160Bn a year training their employees, but, are they really getting their money’s worth? Probably not!

More often than not, corporate training involves disengaged minds. Throughout a typical absurdly long training video, employees often text, read the news or catch up on work, but rarely give the training their full undivided attention. You probably know it by now… your required compliance training material is profoundly boring and really doesn’t influence the workplace environment or improve employee productivity. As a learning or training manager you are looking to justify the thousands of dollars assigned to your attempts to educate your employees.

What about those skills that you actually want to see in action? How do you keep your employees from hampering their coworker’s productivity with questions they should know the answer to? Or avoid having your managers improvise trainings unsuccessfully? In order to increase your employees’ productivity and intellectual growth, you should encourage ongoing learning. It’s your duty to enable this through the right methods and channels. Here are a couple tips that will make education in the workplace more effective:

  1. Make ongoing learning part of your company culture. As an employee, it’s hard to keep up with work, exercise, family, and on top of that, education and skills development. When you make learning a priority for the company, employees will make it a priority too.
  2. Articulate to your employees that training is for their own personal development, not for the company. These are skills that will be with them going forward in your company or at any other.
  3. Allow them to learn on their own terms, be flexible about their time, schedules and preferences. Some people would rather learn on their commute to work, or in bed right before going to sleep. Let employees fit training into their schedules by setting expectations and deadlines, but not mandating how and when training should be consumed.
  4. Reward success. Track your employee’s performance and acknowledge their achievements.
  5. Make it quick, short and sweet. Employees can’t handle hours-long lectures or videos, especially when they can’t stop thinking about their to-do list.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong… 46% of training hours were delivered by an instructor in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, and 90% of new skills are lost within the year. Maybe it’s time to start investing some of that $160Bn in better learning solutions. And yes, a lot of training is being done online nowadays, particularly compliance, but does online actually mean effective? Not necessarily, sitting back and watching a video online might as well be the same as sitting in a classroom and watching a lecture passively. The effectivity of learning both on and offline comes from the interaction with the material and concepts. So, if you want a combination of flexibility and effective learning, try an online, interactive tool!

1,2 Training Magazine, 2015 Training Industry Report. 2 Wall Street Journal, “So much training, so little show for it.”


Inspiration, Smartly

Today’s Inspiration from Jiddu Krishnamurti

children with teacher

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born till the moment you die is a process of learning.”

~Jiddu Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti on Education, Conversation 43

Inspiration, Learning, Smartly

Herb Simon on Learning and Satisficing

This is the first of two blog posts delineating the pedagogical approach of Herb Simon, the man credited with inventing the field of artificial intelligence, for which he won a Turing award in 1975. Simon was a polyglot social scientist, computer scientist and economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He later won the Nobel Prize in 1978 in economics for his work in organizational decision-making.

Herbert Simon in front of blackboard

Herbert Simon, Pittsburg Post Gazette Archives

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” –Herb Simon

Among his many accomplishments, Herb Simon was a pioneer in the field of adaptive production systems. He also identified the decision-making strategy “satisficing,” which describes the goal of finding a solution that is “good enough” and which meets an acceptability threshold, as opposed to “optimizing,” which aims to find an ideal solution.

Simon believed that human beings lack the cognitive resources to optimize, and are usually operating under imperfect information or inaccurate probabilities of outcomes. In both computer algorithm optimization and human decision-making, satisficing can save significant resources, as the cost of collecting the additional information needed to make the optimal decision can often exceed the total benefit of the current decision.

We live in a world where overwhelming amounts of information are at our very fingertips. Every month new educational software offerings are on the market. You can find tutorials to fix anything in your house, learn a new language for free, find lessons that teach you to dance, and watch video lectures from top universities in the topics of your choice.

I like to think of myself as a polyglot learner: I would love nothing better than to just take a year, or two, or ten, and learn as much as I can about everything. But unfortunately, I have limited time. How do I know which tutorials, lessons, and classes are worth the commitment of my time? How can I find a satisficing solution to the problem of becoming a more well-rounded learner and human being?

In Simon’s words, “information is not the scarce resource; what is scarce is the time for us humans to attend to it.” At Pedago we’ve been inspired by thinkers such as Simon to build a learning solution that makes the most of the scarce resource of your time, by employing curated streams of bite-sized lessons; rich, explorable connections between topics; interactive learn-by-doing experiences; and just the right amount of gamification. We want to enable you to craft your own learning experience, so that you can, as Simon would say, positively influence what you do and what you think.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series as we examine Simon’s modeling of human learning.

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Questions, comments? You should follow Pedago on Twitter.

Engineering, Learning, Smartly

Tinkering Toward Learning

man holding bicycle

By Artaxerxes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My friend Alfredo builds bikes as a hobby. He started by replacing a broken chain on his own bike. Then he upgraded his brakes. After a few more repairs, he understood the whole bike system well enough that he could gather all the parts and build one from scratch.

Experienced programmers generally learn new languages in a similar way. We get assigned to a new project for which there is an existing codebase that needs to be maintained or extended. Everything is mostly working, but something needs to be tweaked or added. So we tweak it. After working on five or ten features, we know the new language well enough that we could start a new project ourselves.

In more traditional educational environments, however, we tend to learn things the other way around. We start with simple, contrived building blocks and slowly work our way up to the point where we can comfortably manipulate a more complex and realistic system.

For example, a course that teaches the principle of the “Time Value of Money” is likely to start with a question like “if someone offered you $90 today or $100 a year from now, which one would you take?” This is, to say the least, an unrealistic scenario. But it is an introduction into the concept. After working through a number of similar examples in order to allow the student to master the math, the course will hopefully move on to a more reasonable explanation of how this concept is used in practice.

By Anna reg (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-at], via Wikimedia Commons

By Anna reg (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-at], via Wikimedia Commons

Not that it was a bad course. I actually quite liked it. But this would be like if Alfredo had first worked on pedals, then wheels, then built himself a unicycle before moving on to gears and brakes. It would have been years before he had anything he could ride on. Knowing Alfredo, he would have had no hope of staying motivated for such a long time with no bike to show for it.

Given how useful the tinkering approach is for keeping learners motivated, how do we apply a similar approach to Finance? It turns out this is difficult to do because it often involves risking real money and waiting years to see any results. What a learner really needs is a safe environment to develop intuition around the long-term consequences of her decisions and to discover for herself the places where she needs to dig deeper.

At Pedago, developing alternative approaches to teaching tough topics is what we’re passionate about. Stay tuned over the coming months to see us tackle similar problems.

Curious about Pedago online education? Enter your email address to be added to our beta list.

Questions, comments? You should follow Pedago on Twitter.

This post has been updated to include a clearer example. Thanks to Earthling for the feedback!