How Human Interaction Increases Learner Success

How Human Interaction Increases Learner Success
Jacob Lund/
Summary: How big of a difference does active learning make? Well as it turns out, quite a big one. A recent study has made a breakthrough in the science of learning by proving that not only does human interaction and active learning positively affect learner success, but the absence of active learning can actually hurt a learner.

Increasing Learner Success With Human Interaction

From a young age humans have learned through interacting with each other, but how important is the human connection to learning later in life? At 360Learning we’ve spent the last four years analyzing the impact human interaction has on learning performance indicators and found it changes everything. This is the first of a series of articles where we share what we’ve learned about the science behind learning and the important role human interaction plays in the process of learning, teaching, and transmitting. At the end of the series, you can expect to have a deeper understanding of how people learn best and engage your learners confidently! 

Have you ever taken a class that was so engaging it didn’t feel like work? The professor asked intriguing questions and let the discussion flow organically. You worked through problems as a team and constructed your own understanding of the topics as you went. You may have even found yourself discussing it outside of class with friends. It all just clicked for you.

This isn’t a coincidence.

This is an example of active learning, a process where the student is involved in actively constructing his own understanding of the subject, often through group interactions and applied thinking. And this method of learning has been scientifically proven to increase a student’s engagement, comprehension, and retention of material.

How Big Of A Difference Does Active Learning Make?

Well as it turns out, quite a big one.

A recent study[1] conducted by researchers from the University of Washington has made a breakthrough in the science of learning by proving that not only does active learning positively affect a student’s academic performance, but the absence of active learning can actually hurt a student’s chances of academic success.

Let’s take a deeper look.

The study which was published by one of the world’s most cited multidisciplinary scientific journals, PNAS, was first conceptualized in response to a decline in students earning degrees in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The number of U.S. students entering college with a concentration within a STEM field is already low to begin with at less than 40%, but of the ones that do, only 20% end up graduating with a STEM degree. Attempting to understand what could possibly be causing such a small number of degree achievements, the researchers examined the learning environments used in STEM courses and hoped to answer the following question: Which is better for student performance, lecture-based learning or student-focused active learning?

The team meta-analyzed 225 existing studies that tested student performance in classes with active learning versus traditional lecturing, using two different types of measures in their analysis: exam performance and failure rates.

From their analysis, we have two revolutionary findings: First, active learning leads to increases in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter. And second, students taught by traditional lecturing are 55% more likely to fail than students in courses with active learning (Freeman, 2014).

This is an important conclusion as it confirms what we’ve been told our whole lives: actively participating in the learning process causes the student to invest more and retain the information more effectively.

But these results do more than just confirm a theory we already suspected; they open the door to an entirely new discussion altogether.

What Freeman and his team found could be the catalyst that leads to abandoning lecture-based learning altogether, as this is the first study to prove that passive learning is proven to increase a student's chances of failing. This analysis may pave the way for a new era of learning.

What Is The Key To Active Learning?

In order to unravel active learning, we must understand why it works in the first place. What makes active learning so much more effective than passive learning? What does it have that lecturing does not? It all comes down to one thing: Human interaction.

In active learning, the student is forced to discern and practice what he is learning as he’s learning it – something that can only be achieved through human interaction. This is not a process that can be internalized.

Digital Culture At A Scale

Activities that involve collaboration and sharing of ideas among students promote a deeper level of thought and create meaning for the learner (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). Online exercises that foster human interaction such as peer discussion, team problem solving, and group tutorials, allow the learner to apply the material learned while simultaneously gauging his level of comprehension through peer validation and feedback. This is extremely important because human interaction within learning fosters better motivation, stronger retention and comprehension, and above all, it creates a human connection – a key cognitive function which is vital learning.

Integrating active learning can significantly impact learner success rates, but the power of human interaction goes far beyond test scores: human interaction is key to learner engagement. At 360Learning, we recognize this link which is why activities like discussion, chat, feedback, and newsfeeds are the heart of our earning engagement platform.

To discover the best practices for implementing digital culture at scale through training, download the eBook Digital Culture At Scale.

Stay tuned for the next article within the series where we will explore the scientific link between human interaction and learner engagement, and why it matters. 


[1] Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics

eBook Release: 360Learning
360Learning is the learning platform that combines collaborative tools with the power of an LMS. We empower L&D teams to drive culture and growth through Collaborative Learning.

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