Does Class Size Matter?

Education News | Nov-06-2021

Class Size Matter

Small classes are not necessarily better. In fact, what goes on in the classroom matters more than the size of the class. Early research found that class size had no impact on student grades and only minimal effects on students' higher-order reasoning, motivation, and course evaluations. Later studies have found that the characteristics of students and their instructors, along with course organization and management characteristics, are more important than class size in making sure students learn. Studies of teaching effectiveness have found that course organization and instructor practices are more important than class size in producing positive student outcomes. Students indicate greater learning and greater enjoyment in courses in which instructors examine for higher-order thinking and reasoning.

Although more difficult than in a small class, it is possible to have meaningful contact with students in a large class. There is emerging evidence that student involvement, faculty-student contact, and personal rapport do occur in some large classes. Being personal, preventing students from feeling insignificant and anonymous, and staying in touch with TAs are all key aspects of effective large class instruction. "Even a large class can be personal. The early research found no effect of class size on student grades and weak effects upon higher-order reasoning, motivation, and course evaluations. Later studies found that student, instructor, and course organization and management characteristics are more important than class size in producing affective and cognitive learning outcomes. Average class sizes are thus not reliable proxies for positive learning environments or quality education. It would be better to develop measures that relate what goes on in classes to student learning and outcomes.

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