With everyone talking about active learning these days, is rote learning no longer relevant for students?
As an educator, I want to help students understand the key differences between active learning and rote learning. I have spent some time researching more about these learning methods, in order to give students a more balanced perspective. In this article, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each learning method.
Regardless of whether you are a teacher, a parent or a student, everyone of us should be aware of how active learning and rote learning compare against each other. By learning in a correct and suitable way, students can absorb more knowledge at a quicker pace. They can also maximise their learning experience and be more efficient in developing their understanding of the world around them.
Is active learning or rote learning better for students?
In the classroom, active learning and rote learning typically serve different purposes.
Broadly speaking, rote learning is useful for memorising basic facts and theorems commonly found in mathematics and science. It’s a quick way to help students get up to speed (without much understanding, of course).
Active learning is a more effective learning method when students need to understand information at a deeper level. For example, active learning can help you to better answer a question that indirectly makes use of your knowledge.
Choosing the right learning method can positively impact the learning experience of the students. It may also result in different outcomes in knowledge acquisition, application and problem-solving. Either way, students have to learn to be patient and hardworking when it comes to learning.
What is Rote Learning?
Rote learning refers to the act of memorising information, and it usually involves some form of repetition. After being presented with the same information multiple times, students are expected to recall the information.
One of our first encounters of rote learning would be when we started learning phonics and rhymes as a child. Perhaps that’s why we still know our nursery rhymes so well. As we grow older, we use rote learning to memorise multiplication tables in mathematics and the periodic table in chemistry.
Remembering fundamental formulas and basic theorems in science also involves rote learning. As a basic unit, we often cannot break them down into smaller chunks or derive them from other facts. However, these formulas and theorems can help us come up with second-level information. And that is where active learning would eventually move into focus.
The Pros and Cons of Rote Learning
Students need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of rote learning, and how this technique affects their learning. This helps them to widen their understanding of the way they learn, and to adapt their learning style accordingly.
Advantages of Rote Learning
Rote learning helps students to acquire and recall basic facts quickly. It is usually used to help students develop their foundational knowledge. For instance, basic formulas, theorems, terminology and principles in mathematics and science are best picked up by rote learning. Scientific methods and reasoning, as well as experimental skills, are also suitable for rote learning, as opposed to active learning.
The idea is that rote learning helps students to pick up the most basic facts in the shortest time possible. When revising content from previous years, teachers would often make use of rote learning to help students recall past information. This would free up more time for other learning activities, since classroom time is usually quite limited.
Disadvantages of Rote Learning
Rote learners can easily lose their focus as things start to feel repetitive. There is little or no connection between new and previous knowledge in rote learning. This could result in a wrong impression or a poor understanding of a concept. Also, rote learning does not encourage the use of social skills as students do not get to interact.
Rote learning does not give students a thorough understanding of what they are learning. Students would just regurgitate the facts at face value. While this can be sufficient in building basic knowledge, it is not suitable to develop a deeper understanding. Without anchoring our understanding properly, it is easy for us to forget what we have memorised.
What is Active Learning?
Active learning is an approach that emphasises the importance of learning through experience. It is an active approach that involves solving problems and conducting inquiries into topics. It encourages students to discover facts on their own. Active learning also helps students to develop higher-level skills such as critical thinking and interpersonal skills.
In an active learning environment, students are taught to keep an open mind. They should always strive to learn something new each day. Before going to class, students are expected to prepare beforehand. Depending on the activity, students may need to change their learning approach and step out of their comfort zone.
Active learning is a modern technique that became popular in recent years. It requires more preparation for both the teacher and the learner. In an earlier article, we have also listed some common active learning techniques that can be adopted. We hope that this can get you started, if you are not already an active learner!
The Pros and Cons of Active Learning
Active learning has many advantages, as we have mentioned previously. However, there are not many articles that discuss the potential downsides of active learning.
Here are some of the pros and cons of active learning:
Advantages of Active Learning
An advantage of active learning is that it promotes engagement and motivation in the classroom. With so many fun activities awaiting them, students are more eager to learn. At the same time, teachers would encourage students to learn new things through “trial and error”. By knowing what works and what doesn’t, students develop resilience and strengthen their problem-solving abilities.
Students can also exercise the creative side of their brain through active learning. By participating actively in class, students get to collaborate and work closely as a team. They take greater ownership of their own learning. We also find that active learning helps students to shape their critical thinking and global perspectives.
Disadvantages of Active Learning
Active learning can be time-consuming. As we have mentioned, active learning involves a lot of preparation work. Students may need to spend some time in the evenings to get themselves ready for class. For example, students are often asked to research on a topic which the teacher would cover next. Teachers would also need to think of activities that are meaningful and contribute towards the learning outcomes. In fact, there may also be times for the occasional memorisation in active learning.
Some parents felt that active learning has discouraged their children from interacting with their elders. After spending too much time in an active learning environment, students have gotten too used to learning by themselves. Despite their efforts to clear any misconceptions, some teachers felt that their students may not fully understand what they have learnt. In both cases, parents and teachers should encourage students to speak up more.
So… Active Learning or Rote Learning, Which is Better?
Both active learning and rote learning have an important role to play in the classroom today. It depends on what the desired learning outcome is. Imparting facts that just need to be memorised are not quite suitable for an active learning classroom. But other than that, active learning is the way forward when a deeper level of understanding is required.
7 Tips on How to Become a Better Learner
No matter what learning environment you are in, many other factors can affect the way students learn. Regardless of whether you practise active learning, rote learning or something else, you determine the success of your learning. That’s to a rather great extent, actually. You’ll just need to figure out a learning style which suits you best.
Here are 7 quick tips to help students become a better learner:
- Recognise your own learning habits and styles
- Relate what you have just learnt to what you already know
- Teach people what you have learnt to reinforce your understanding
- Revisit your past knowledge to refresh and improve your memory
- Practise often to gain more experience, especially for your weaker areas
- Try out new things and explore different approaches to old things
- Keep learning new things and don’t be afraid of making mistakes
Pick one or two from the list above. Start working on them over the next 30 days. Set yourself some goals to achieve. If you have any learning tips that you would like to share, feel free to leave a comment.
In this article, we have discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of rote learning and active learning. Hopefully, this would give you some idea on how each form of learning can be useful for you. There are many techniques which students can employ to maximise their learning experience.
While active learning is the way forward for the modern-day classroom, there is still some room for rote learning. If active learning is taking up too much time, a brief switch to rote learning may bring some respite.
In the digital world today, there are many tools and techniques for active learning. With the help of technology, it is much easier for you to take responsibility and ownership of your own learning. But too much technology can be overwhelming. If you need to take some time off active learning, give yourself the chance to do so.
It’s like having a balanced diet. You cannot simply eat the healthiest food every day, forever. The occasional “cheat day” provides you with some sort of variety to an otherwise uneventful lifestyle. This helps you to maintain your goals, and motivates you to work even harder.
Are students relying too much on technology these days? Technology has become an ingrained part of our daily life. It has changed the way students are learning new things. If you find yourself spending too much time online, check your priorities and reallocate your time. Cut down on less important stuff such as social media or mindless surfing. This leaves you with more time for the meaningful things that matter.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of homework? In an active learning classroom, time is a limited resource and is reserved for imparting new knowledge. That’s why teachers give out homework, so that students can practise on the problems at their own pace. However, too much homework can cause tiredness, stress and anxiety, especially for students who participate in many other activities. Let your parents or teacher know if you need help with managing your homework.