Active learning is one of the buzzwords of the moment among educators. It describes a collaborative learning experience that CAST PHARMA already applies in its Masterclasses, specifically designed to train employees of pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Various studies and in particular the work of Physics Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman at Stanford University demonstrate the usefulness of active learning in any kind of educational setting. Wieman is convinced that aptitude is overrated and that anyone, given the right choice of teaching method, can make astonishing progress in their chosen subject. Not even Mozart, Wieman says, was a born genius but was made into one by active learning, encouraged by his father.
Active learning means allowing students the freedom to explore a topic on their own, while repeatedly checking on their progress and giving them the necessary guidance to avoid the development of misconceptions and knowledge gaps.
A stunning experiment by Japanese scientist Ayako Sakakibara proved that, contrary to long-held beliefs, not just one in a thousand but any child can develop absolute pitch through proper training of only a few minutes a day. Some of the young children participating in the program took a few months, others more than a year. But in the end, all of them had the ability to identify any musical note without a reference tone. And there are many more such examples of the power of active learning out there.
In Wieman’s active learning seminars in Stanford, each student first has to try to work on any given problem on their own. The solutions are then discussed with the group, with Wieman pointing out possible mistakes and generally acting as facilitator and guide. Even manifest nonsense that some students may come up with is welcomed and incorporated into the teaching method.
The worst failing in Wieman’s eyes is the attitude of those of his colleagues who still cling to demonstrably less successful methods of teaching, such as frontal instruction. As popular as active learning is rapidly becoming, there is still a long way to go in implementing the method in universities, corporations, and other places of learning.