Active Learning: If You’re Active Half the Time, That’s Still Not Enough

by Justin Skycak on

During practice, the elite skaters were over 6 times more active than passive, while non-competitive skaters were nearly as passive as they were active.

This post is part of the book The Math Academy Way: Using the Power of Science to Supercharge Student Learning (Working Draft, Jan 2024). Suggested citation: Skycak, J., advised by Roberts, J. (2024). Active Learning: If You're Active Half the Time, That's Still Not Enough. In The Math Academy Way: Using the Power of Science to Supercharge Student Learning (Working Draft, Jan 2024). https://justinmath.com/active-learning-if-youre-active-half-the-time-thats-still-not-enough/


In a study (Deakin & Cobley, 2003, pp.115-136) of figure skaters who had been practicing for a similar number of years, the proportion of active practice (relative to passive practice) was a defining attribute separating the elite and non-elite skaters.

The elite skaters spent a greater proportion of their practice time actively practicing some of the trickiest, most taxing moves (jumps & spins), and even when resting from those taxing activities, they were more likely to continue actively practicing less taxing movements like footwork and arm positions.

The authors note specific percentage breakdowns, which we have organized into a table to illustrate how each group of skaters would use 100 minutes of practice time.

  • "...[T]he elite group spent an average of 14% of their total on-ice practice time on rest; the competitive group, 31%; and the test skaters, 46%. ... The elite and competitive skaters spent 68% and 59% of their sessions practicing jumps whereas the test group was engaged in those activities for only 48% of their on-ice time.
    ...
    Not only did the elite group practice jumps and spins for a higher proportion of on-ice session, but they also rested less and used the remaining 18% of their on-ice time to practice other elements of their programs, such as footwork and arm positions."

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In the table, we see that the elite skaters allocated their practice time far more efficiently: during practice, the elite skaters were over 6 times more active than passive, while non-competitive skaters were nearly as passive as they were active.

The key takeaway is that, while some amount of active learning is certainly better than no active learning, the best outcomes are achieved by fully maximizing the amount of productive active learning.

(Of course, some passive instruction will generally be needed to demonstrate to a learner what it is that they need to practice, but that passive instruction should be kept to a minimum effective dose before launching into more extensive active learning.)

Reference

Deakin, J. M., & Cobley, S. (2003). A search for deliberate practice. Expert performance in sports, 115-36.


This post is part of the book The Math Academy Way: Using the Power of Science to Supercharge Student Learning (Working Draft, Jan 2024). Suggested citation: Skycak, J., advised by Roberts, J. (2024). Active Learning: If You're Active Half the Time, That's Still Not Enough. In The Math Academy Way: Using the Power of Science to Supercharge Student Learning (Working Draft, Jan 2024). https://justinmath.com/active-learning-if-youre-active-half-the-time-thats-still-not-enough/