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Do "Clickers" Always "Click" in the Classroom?


Tue Aug 14 2012

Do "Clickers" Always "Click" in the Classroom?

A recent question on the ASTD National LinkedIn discussion board asked about the tools, techniques, and outcomes from the use of hand-held “clickers” (personal response systems) during classroom instruction. My response post claiming evidence for the benefits of clickers resulted in several requests for the research. The interest in and benefits of a relatively inexpensive classroom engagement method prompted me to summarize the evidence in this blog.

What Is a Clicker?


You have probably had a chance to use clickers during a presentation or class. Basically, the presenter poses a multiple-choice question on a slide with several options, and each participant selects an option on their individual handheld keypad. The results are displayed, usually in a bar graph, along with the percentage of individuals responding. As an instructor or presenter, you can pose questions to define features of your audience or their organizations such as: “How many years of training experience have you had?”

In my presentations, I describe research on various instructional issues, such as what visuals are best for learning. I typically precede a discussion of the research with a question (see Figure 1), asking which of three different displays promoted the best learning of blood circulation through the heart. This type of question activates prior knowledge or curiosity about the research I will be presenting. It also tells me a bit about the background experiences and assumptions of the audience.

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Do Clickers Promote Learning?

Mayer et al (2008) describe an experiment conducted in large educational psychology classes at a major university. The clicker group responded to four questions during an hour lecture (example in Figure 2).

Do "Clickers" Always "Click" in the Classroom?-4ccdb060be3789541662c071bbb628a2f0d23edf9779b89b0b0501e8737cabe5

After responding, students reviewed the projected results, and the instructor led a brief discussion regarding the answers. Students received 2 points for each correct answer and 1 point for an incorrect answer, to total 40 points toward their semester grade. A second class received the same questions on paper. During the lecture they answered the questions on paper and signaled their answers publically with a show of hands followed by a similar discussion as the clicker group. A third group received no questions during the lecture.


Figure 3 summarizes the quiz scores for the three groups. The clicker group scored significantly higher than both the no-clicker group and the no-question group, which were not different from each other. The research team concluded that, “If the goal is to help students learn in large college lecture classes, there is reason to consider using a personal response system to foster student-instructor interaction during class” (p. 56). Shapiro and Gordon (in press) replicated these results in college classes reporting that the use of clickers improved exam scores by 10% to 13%.

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Clicker Cases

The research presented previously involved a few multiple choice questions interspersed throughout a lecture. A clicker case design integrates lecture, case storylines, discussion, clicker questions and clarification of answers. Lundeberg et al (2011) described a project involving creation, use, and evaluation of several clicker cases related to topics in biology. The case rated most effective by faculty, “Cross-dressing or Crossing-Over: Sex Testing of Women Athletes,” includes an Internet video, slides to present the case, and student-assigned roles as members of an Olympic committee tasked with determining whether an individual is female and deciding what action to take. Elements of this case that made it more effective than other cases included: (1) the use of a news video to show the case was real and to add an emotional element, (2) a large amount of group interaction in responding to the clicker questions, and (3) content that challenged misconceptions regarding sex reversal and genes.

What We Don’t Know

Based on evidence to date, clickers appear to be a relatively inexpensive and powerful way to increase engagement and learning in traditional, receptive learning environments as well as a tool to promote engagement in scenario-based instructional designs. We need more evidence to determine the optimal number and placement of clicker questions, the effects of types of questions asked, the effects of different types of designs such as questions embedded in cases, and any differences among learners with more or less prior knowledge of the topic.


Have you tried clickers?

What tools did you use?

What benefits did you see?


Campbell, J. & Mayer, R.E. (2009). Questioning as an instructional method: Does it affect learning from lectures? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 747-759.

Mayer, R.E., Stull, A., DeLeeuw, K., Almeroth, K., Bimber, B., Chun, D., Bulger, M. Campbell, J., Knight, A. and Zhang, H. (2009). Clickers in college classrooms: Fostering learning with questioning methods in large lecture classes. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34, 51-57.

Lundeberg, M.A. et al (2011), Context matters: Increasing understanding with interactive clicker case studies. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59, 645-671.

Shapiro, A.M. & Gordon, L.T. (in press). A controlled study of clicker-assisted memory enhancement in College classrooms. Applied Cognitive Psychology. DOI: 10.1002/acp.2843

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