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Underrepresented minority (URM) students are disproportionately retained and underperform in STEM disciplines compared to non-URM students, yet are needed in the STEM workforce. Possible causes of this minority achievement gap are social isolation, “chilly” classrooms, low confidence, and stereotype threat (Ballen et al., 2017). Inclusive instruction, which includes active learning, may help to reduce this gap (Saunders & Kardia, 1997). Active learning engages students in learning through activities and/or discussion in class as opposed to passively listening to lectures (Brame, 2016; Freeman et al., 2014). But, not all active learning strategies promote inclusive learning environments. We examined whether a type of active learning activity called exploratory learning helps to reduce the minority achievement gap. Students (N = 356) in an introductory psychology statistics course or recruited for a lab study were randomly assigned to learn concepts of variance and standard deviation in one of two conditions. Students in the explore-first (EF) condition completed a novel problem followed by instruction. Students in the instruct-first (IF) condition received instruction followed by the problem, akin to a traditional learning sequence. All participants completed a posttest approximately one week later, or immediately after the first packet in the lab. Although posttest scores improved overall in the EF compared to the IF condition, a minority achievement gap was found in both conditions. Exploratory learning can be an effective method overall, but did not decrease the minority achievement gap.

Publication Date

Spring 4-2020


Minority achievement gap, underrepresented minority (URM) students, active learning, exploratory learning, inclusive instruction


Other Psychology | School Psychology | Social Psychology

Can Exploratory Learning Help to Close the Minority Achievement Gap?