Less teaching, more learning: 10-yr study supports increasing student learning through less coverage and more inquiry

Douglas B. Luckie, Jacob R. Aubry, Benjamin J. Marengo, Aaron M. Rivkin, Lindsey A. Foos, Joseph J. Maleszewski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


In this study, we compared gains in student content learning over a 10-yr period in which the introductory biology laboratory curriculum was changed in two ways: an increase of inquiry and a reduction of content. Three laboratory formats were tested: traditional 1-wk-long cookbook laboratories, two 7-wk-long inquiry laboratories, and one 14-wk-long inquiry laboratory. As the level of inquiry increased,student learning gains on content exams trended upward even while traditional content coverage taught decreased. In a quantitative assessment of content knowledge, students who participated in the 14-wklong inquiry laboratory format outscored their peers in both 7- and 1-wk-long lab formats on Medical College Admissions Test exam questions (scores of 64.73%, 61.97%, and 53.48%, respectively, P < 0.01). In a qualitative study of student opinions, surveys conducted at the end of semesters where traditional 1-wk laboratories (n = 167 students) were used had low response rates and predominately negative opinions (only 20% of responses were positive), whereas those who participated in 7-wk (n = 543) or 14-wk (n = 308) inquiry laboratories had high response rates and 71% and 96% positive reviews, respectively. In an assessment of traditional content coverage in courses, three indexes were averaged to calculatetraditional forms of coverage and showed a decrease by 44% over the study period. We believe that the quantitative and qualitative data support greater student-driven inquiry in the classroom laboratory, which leads to deeper learning in fewer topic areas (less teaching) and can reap gains in scientific thinking and fundamental understanding applicable to a broader range of topic areas (more learning) in introductory biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-335
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Cooperative
  • Inquiry
  • Laboratory
  • Research
  • Undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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