A conversation about the new teaching approach part 2

“The traditional learning style using lectures as the main instruction. It requires students to absorb large amounts of knowledge transmits by the professor. In the old day, that is the only way to teach but today it is different. Today students are easily distracted by many things, and they do not have the patience to sit quietly in class. Many do not have the motivation to study so we need a different approach. In the new approach, the teachers are no longer the “knowledge transmitters” and students are no longer “The knowledge absorbers,” but teachers are the guides to help students to learn the materials by themselves.”

He asked: “Is that the fundamental of the “Active learning” method? I answered: “An active learning method is an approach that promotes the developing students’ skills rather than absorbing and memorizing information. It requires students to actively read, discuss, think, and do. The class consists of many activities from simple questions and answers to clarify concepts to debate on a topic so students can organize their views. Basically, it promotes students’ efforts to actively develop their own knowledge and skills. In this method, students are the “active learners” and actually DO those tasks to develop their skills. This method is focusing on “Interactive” where classes time is reserved mostly for discussions and debates, NOT listening and absorbing materials.”

He said: “It is difficult to change the students’ learning habit. It also put a lot of efforts on the teachers too.” I explained: “Of course, any change is difficult in the beginning but in order for the real learning is to take place, the class must be interactive. All tasks must be designed for the interaction among students and teachers with a lot of questions and answers. The teachers monitor the discussion among students and identify how well the students are learning during their discussion, presentations, teamwork exercises, and problem-solving, etc. The teachers keep the class activity dynamic and allow students to learn deeper. By debating and challenging others, students can make a connection between the materials and the real situation where they can apply them. The new method is focusing on making learning a “progress” on a daily basis instead of waiting for the end-of-the-course examination. This also avoids students cramming before the test”.

He argued: “That will be very difficult to do if it is not impossible.” I challenged him: “You have asked me to explain the new teaching method in details. What I have described is the approach that we have been using very successful for many years at Carnegie Mellon and other top universities. Students learn best by experiencing teaching activities that promote the three learning factors: Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral. Cognitive refers to knowledge of the subject. Affective refers to attitudes of students in learning, and Behavior refers to practical application. The three learning styles are Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Basically, students must see the teachers(Visual) listening to the teachers (Auditory) and absorb the information to understand the subject. Textbook and course materials are good for cognitive learning by providing the basic knowledge but to absorb it, they must hear it (Auditory) that is why attending class is important. However, auditory does not mean just quietly listening but also speaking, discussion and debating. Students interpret the knowledge and clarify them via listening to the teachers’ lectures and other’s asking questions or discussing during class. By listening and seeing, they will develop their own understanding. That is why the teachers must explain the benefits of the skill acquire on the lecture materials. Instead of an abstract concept of a subject, the teachers break down a subject into smaller tasks which is easier to explain and teach. These things form the foundation for learning but to acquire the skill, students must learn by doing it (Kinesthetic). Students learn and develop their skills by actually doing a lot of exercises. This method requires more exercises, homework, quizzes, and teamwork than others.”

“Our study found that students only retain 10 percent of what they see; 20 percent of what they see and hear but 90 percent of what they see, hear, and do. Of course, this method requires both teachers and students to do more but that is the only way to improve the education system. To improve the quality of education, we need to re-train all teachers to this new teaching method. Students also must be willing to adjust to this new learning style so improvement can happen. You cannot improve the education by adding courses but using the same traditional teaching method. To teach science and technology, you need a new approach, a new vision, and a new way to motivate students to learn.”

“At the beginning of the class, the teachers explain the benefit of the task that they will teach. By knowing what will benefit them, students are eager to learn and they will study hard to develop the needed skills. For example, I told my students about an advertising I saw in the newspaper that day: “Today Google has an advertisement in the New York Times that they need workers with Machine learning skills. As we are learning about Tensorflow today, you need to know that this is an open-source software library for dataflow programming used in machine learning applications and it is developed and widely used in Google’s products. If you can develop this skill, you will do well in the job interview with Google.”

“By making a case for the benefit that students need, they will pay more attention to the course. Their desire to learn more will help facilitate their learning attitude from dependent view to independent view. Eventually, they will develop their own responsibilities for their lives such as career planning, acquiring skills, achieving competencies, getting jobs, contributing to the society, building a family, be a professional, be a good citizen etc. That is the new educational approach that I believe is suitable for all future careers and meet the need of the fourth Industrial Revolution.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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