So what is the sweet spot for student learning? On this issue Joe Cuseo is carefully vague invoking the disparity of study methods. However, he goes out on a limb to state that his reading of the literature indicates that an enrolment of 15 students is probably as big as a class can get before student learning outcomes are adversely affected. Having stated that, he goes on to explain that this needs further study.
The major findings of Cuseo's meta-analysis are (these are the sub-headings in the first section of his paper):
- Large class size increases faculty reliance on the lecture method of instruction.
- Large classes reduce students’ level of active involvement in the learning process (and both Weimer 2013 and Ambrose et al 2010 have argued that active learning is key to improving student learning outcomes).
- Large class size reduces the frequency and quality of instructor interaction with and feedback to students.
- Large-class settings reduce students’ depth of thinking inside the classroom.
- Large class size limits the breadth and depth of course objectives, course assignments, and course-related learning outside the classroom.
- Students’ academic achievement (learning) and academic performance (grades) are lowered in courses with large class size.
- Students report less course satisfaction in large-sized classes.
- Students give lower overall ratings (evaluations) for course instruction delivered in large classes.
So for those of us who have experienced the joy of the seminar and the pain of the lecture theater, you now have a review of the published literature that shows that seminar sized classes are the better learning environment for students.
ResourcesAmbrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bligh, D. A. (1998). What’s the Use of Lectures? 5th ed. Exeter: Intellect.
Christensen, L. J., & Menzel, K. E. (1998). The linear relationship between student reports of teacher immediacy behaviors and perceptions of state motivation, and of cognitive, affective, and behavioral learning. Communication Education, 47(1), 82–90.
Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 113–143.
Cuseo, J. (2007). The empirical case against large class size: Adverse effects on the teaching, learning, and retention of first-year students. The Journal of Faculty Development, 21(1), 5–21.
Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, 2nd ed.. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.