Students Should be Experimenting before Reading or Watching Videos


It was first believed that students learned better by first reading or watching videos about a new topic before jumping into hands-on learning in the classroom. But thanks to Stanford researchers, that may no longer be the case. The Stanford researchers used the BrainExplorer, a table-top tool that simulates how the human brain processes visual images, to debunk this old fashioned way of teaching students new topics.

“Our results suggest that students are better prepared to understand a theory after first exploring by themselves” said Bertrand Schneider, a GSE graduate student who led the research under the direction of Paulo Blikstein, an assistant professor of education.

The study performed by Stanford researchers involved 28 undergraduate and graduate students as participants, none of whom had studied neuroscience. After being given an initial test, half of the group only read about the neuroscience of vision, while the others worked with the BrainExplorer tool. When tested after those respective lessons, the performance of participants who used BrainExplorer increased significantly more – 30 percent – than those who had read the text.

The second test had the two groups switch and do the other learning activity. So the students who read first then used the BrainExplorer and the BrainExplorer students only read about the neuroscience of vision in the second test. The researchers revealed that there was  a 25-percent increase in performance when open-ended exploration came before text study rather than after it. (A follow-up study showed identical results for video classes instead of text.)

“We are showing that exploration, inquiry and problem solving are not just ‘nice to have’ things in classrooms. They are powerful learning mechanisms that increase performance by every measure we have.” – Blikstein

In conclusion:  The “exploration first” model is a better way to learn!