Student engagement, assessed using heart rate, shows no reset following active learning sessions in lectures

Diana K. Darnell, Paul A. Krieg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Heart rate can be used as a measure of cognitive engagement. We measured average student heart rates during medical school lecture classes using wristwatch-style monitors. Analysis of 42 classes showed a steady decline in heart rate from the beginning to end of a lecture class. Active learning sessions (peer-discussion based problem solving) resulted in a significant uptick in heart rate, but this returned to the average level immediately following the active learning period. This is the first statistically robust assessment of changes in heart rate during the course of college lecture classes and indicates that personal heart rate monitors may be useful tools for assessment of different teaching modalities. The key findings suggest that the value of active learning within the classroom resides in the activity itself and not in an increase in engagement or reset in attention during the didactic period following an active learning session.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0225709
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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