Science Education and Passive Learning – Is It the Right Match?

Passive learning was not always regarded from a negative point of view. Throughout history, students were mostly expected to absorb knowledge by listening to their professors’ lectures and then use that information to pass the exams and write the best essay. Passive learning in science, in particular, is especially problematic. Students are required to deal with academic writing, so they have no other choice than hiring essay services to do part of their work.

This teaching method is no longer being respected as an effective way of obtaining knowledge. Active learning, on the other hand, is associated with practical techniques that require students’ participation. Essay writing is also a big part of this system, but the students are not expected to present theory through their projects. The professors evaluate the practical implementation of the knowledge a student has obtained.

Why Is Passive Learning Ineffective in the Contemporary Educational System?

Professor Tammy Tobin (who teaches a virology course at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania), created a practical learning environment for his students. The professor asked them to present how they would identify the pathogen, track its development and find solutions for containing and treating it if they found themselves in the role of federal public health officers. This experiment lasted for a semester and the results were great.

Tobin made the learning environment as realistic as possible. At the end, the students had to explain their mistakes and evaluate the effects of the actions they undertook. This approach enabled the learners to see beyond their textbooks. They obtained a lot of information through research, and they learned how to combine the scientific approach with “politics, sociology, biology, even some economics.”

Active Learning Is the Best Approach

Passive learning is ineffective for today’s students. When compared with other niches, science education is transforming at a slower pace. In a recent episode of The Skeptics’ Guide, Steven Novella, M.D. explained the need for an update of science teacher’s methods. He suggested drastic transformations in the way students are being evaluated. Instead of grades, Novella would like to see “relative measures”.

There is a fact that justifies his point of view: students who achieve the best results on science tests don’t always grow into successful scientists. When compared to passive learning methods, the active approach improves the student’s conceptual knowledge. When the classroom environment launches him into a realistic situation, the student develops problem-solving skills. He asks question, forms hypotheses, and experiments with different approaches in order to come to a solution. When the process of obtaining knowledge is interactive, students are inspired to make their own contributions.

Hands-on activities demand successful classroom management, and most science teachers are not ready to carry that burden. In the podcast, Novello explained that “the younger generation does not want to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture.” Thus, professors must make an effort to make their teaching methods suitable for the group of students they are responsible for. If they turn the classroom into an interactive environment, they make their students capable of solving actual scientific problems.

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