Quantifying the effects of active learning environments: separating physical learning classrooms from pedagogical approaches


Prior findings on the effects of active learning environments were limited by both research design and data-analysis techniques, such as lack of controls over confounding factors and misuse of statistical modeling. We (1) investigated the effects of active learning environments on student achievement and motivation and (2) overcame the limitations of prior studies. Using a three-group design, the effects of physical learning environments and pedagogical approaches were successfully separated. Active learning environments were found to have little influence, whereas active learning and teaching were found to have a significantly-positive influence on student achievements. The findings contribute to understandings of active learning environments in higher education, and invite more debate about whether further investments in active learning classrooms are worthwhile.

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Correspondence to Qiang Hao.

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Appendix: Survey

Appendix: Survey

Section I Attitude towards taking computer science courses


I like programming


I like computer science


I am looking forward to taking more Computer Science courses



I am confident in my technical knowledge


I am confident in my programming skills


I am confident in my capability of learning new technical skills

Section II Achievement goal questionnaire-revised

Mastery-approach goal


My aim is to completely master the material presented in this class


I am striving to do well compared with other students


My goal is to learn as much as possible

Master-avoidance goal


My aim is to perform well relative to other students


My aim is to avoid learning less than I possibly could


My goal is to avoid performing poorly compared with others

Performance-approach goal


I am striving to understand the content as thoroughly as possible


My goal is to perform better than the other students


My goal is to avoid learning less than it is possible to learn

Performance-avoidance goal


I am striving to avoid performing worse than others


My aim is to avoid doing worse than other students


I am striving to avoid an incomplete understanding of the course material

Likert responses: SA, A, N, D, SD

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Hao, Q., Barnes, B. & Jing, M. Quantifying the effects of active learning environments: separating physical learning classrooms from pedagogical approaches. Learning Environ Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10984-020-09320-3

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  • Active learning environments
  • Computing education
  • Higher education
  • Physical environments