The effects of passive and active learning on student preference and performance in an undergraduate basic science course

Anat Sci Educ. 2012 Jul-Aug;5(4):200-7. doi: 10.1002/ase.1274. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Active learning is based on self-directed and autonomous teaching methods, whereas passive learning is grounded in instructor taught lectures. An animal physiology course was studied over a two-year period (Year 1, n = 42 students; Year 2, n = 30 students) to determine the effects of student-led seminar (andragogical) and lecture (pedagogical) teaching methods on students' retention of information and performance. For each year of the study, the course was divided into two time periods. The first half was dedicated to instructor-led lectures, followed by a control survey in which the students rated the efficiency of pedagogical learning on a five-point Likert scale from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). During the second period, students engaged in andragogical learning via peer-led seminars. An experimental survey was then administered to students using the same scale as above to determine students' preferred teaching method. Raw examination scores and survey results from both halves of the course were statistically analyzed by ANOVA with Newman-Keuls multiple comparison test. By the end of the study, student preference for peer-led seminars increased [mean ± SD: (2.47 ± 0.94)/(4.03 ± 1.36), P < 0.04], and examination scores significantly increased [mean ± SD: (73.91% ± 13.18)/(85.77 ± 5.22), P < 0.001]. A majority of students (68.8%) preferred a method that contained peer-led seminars and instructor-led lectures. These results may indicate that integration of active and passive learning into undergraduate courses may have greater benefit in terms of student preference and performance than either method alone.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Mental Competency
  • Physiology / education*
  • Problem-Based Learning / methods*
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Students / psychology*
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Universities*