Actively Learning From Each Other

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755–765.

In the article, Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set, the authors, Carl A. Benware and Edward L. Deci (1984), questioned whether students would be independently motivated to learn with an active orientation over students of a passive orientation. In other words, if a student has a reason that is intrinsically tied to an internal reward, then that student will have an advantage over another student who is learning ‘just because.’ The study had a control and experimental group. The instructions for each group were relatively the same except the main difference for the experimental group is that they were told that upon their return in one week they will be required to teach another student the material they will be studying and then that student will be given an exam from their instruction – this would be the reward.

After one week both groups returned to the laboratory. The control group were given a survey and were examined on the material. The experimental group were given the survey and then told that they were not going to teach the students but were being given an exam to enable investigators to understand their learning process and how well they know the material. The findings indicate that the students in the experimental group were much more interested in learning the material, enjoyed the participation in the experiment and would be willing to participate further (Benware & Deci, 1984). Additionally, their memorization of the material and conceptual learning was also significantly better.

Comments: Strengths and Contributions

Organization The article is designed so that the reader can deduct that the purpose of the study (the quality of learning) is differentiated by motivational factors behind the learning (extrinsic versus intrinsic). What this research highlighted is that there are many different ways to transfer knowledge to students without creating elaborate and time consuming methods.
Contribution to Field While this is an older study, I feel the finding are critical in developing my action research. Particularly, the motivating factors why students learn in one way versus the other.
Literature Review One study the authors refer to is that of Bargh and Schul (1980). The main thrust of their study, On the cognitive benefits of teaching, (Bargh and Schul, 1980) is when people learn, in order to be able to teach the materials to another student or class, they use different cognitive structures than compared to those who learn just to be examined on the material. Again, while this is an older article, I feel that the way humans learn is relatively as old as time.
Data Collection The data collection method was relatively a simple process of having a control group and an experimental group. Both groups were given an article to read with relatively the same instructions except the experimental group was told that when they returned to the lab (after one week of studying the materials) they would teach the content to another student whom would then be tested on the material.
Findings Upon analyzing the assessments, the findings indicate that the interest, enjoyment and participation was significantly greater in the experimental group. More striking was that the conceptual learning score in the experimental group was markedly exceptional over the control group.

Since the article (Benware & Deci, 1984) was published nearly 30 years ago, I was a little hesitant about its relevancy. However, after reading the article I discovered there was significant value to me. A couple of those reasons being:

  • This study highlighted that “active learning” does not require a significant amount of money or time to produce favorable results, such as described in the article, The flipped classroom: A course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school (McLaughlin et al. 2014). In the article, the authors describe a major stumbling block being that the initial time investment is significant on the instructor but then diminishes but the time commitment for the lab or teachers’ assistant remains high.
  • The combination of the results from the survey and the examination demonstrated that if students were told they were going to use the material learned (to teach another student) then it lead to greater conceptual knowledge (Benware & Deci, 1984).

This has sparked my interest in possibly reproducing a study of this nature at the College of Medicine – Phoenix. Given that these students are pursuing a career in medicine, some of them simply because they want to help people, this may be a good test to see if their altruistic goals are measurable. Also, one of the core goals within Academic Affairs at the College is “to understanding basic and clinical science, (and) students must learn to engage with people in compassionate and understanding ways” (University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Phoenix, Academic Affairs, 2014, para. 2). I may want to design a study that will measure how to achieve this goal with the use of student taught active learning.


Bargh, J.A., & Schul, Y. (1980). On the cognitive benefits of teaching. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 593-604.

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755–765.

McLaughlin, J. E., Roth, M. T., Glatt, D. M., Gharkholonarehe, N., Davidson, C. a, Griffin, L. M., … Mumper, R. J. (2014). The flipped classroom: a course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(2), 236–43.

University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Phoenix, Academic Affairs, (2014) Retrieved from