There is an emerging consensus on the virtues of active learning methods for improving student performance. Such learning methods can be any instruction or technique that requires students to actively engage in the learning process, as
compared to more traditional, passive ways of learning.
One form of active learning is retrieval practice (RP), where the activity of including test sessions while acquiring new information has been shown to markedly boost long-term retention. … RP is one of few learning methods considered to have high utility for improving students’ learning.
Learning conditions that require students to be actively engaged have also been emphasized in the context of learning mathematics. Instead of imitating a provided algorithmic solution (algorithmic reasoning [AR]), more effective mathematical learning is accomplished if students are required to generate the solution (creative mathematical reasoning [CMR]).
The paper by Sara Stillesjö et al in PNAS supports the hypothesis of a common brain basis of learning effects following active vs. more passive learning of two separate course subjects, vocabulary and mathematics.
These results are of importance for educators as well as the broader society, as they provide mechanistic insights into how activity improves student performance via differential brain engagement during learning.
The observed overlap in brain activity during retrieval of vocabulary and mathematics may reflect reactivation of common active learning processes. Such processes could be reactivation of semantic representations by the left PFC, reactivation of contextually linked information in the precuneus, and fact retrieval and attention processes for the angular gyrus.
Of note, as the two course subjects likely differ to some degree in the cognitive demands involved in performing the task at hand, it cannot be ruled out that some of the overlap reflects curriculum-specific processes. With this caveat, consistent with a constructivistic perspective, our findings suggest that
active learning of vocabulary and mathematics stimulate common processes that become part of the representations and can be reactivated during retrieval to support performance