Of course, the main xwidgets branch also opens up possibililties when it comes to prettyifying a lot of built in emacs applications. However, I don't find that very necessary in many cases. One of the main advantages with emacs is that (almost) everything is text, which means that you get a synergistic effect the more you do inside emacs.
; Witty end of comment for emacs aficionados:
(animate-string "Congratulations to Joakim Verona for getting this merged" 10 10)
(One possible reason why lectures are still so common: It is a cheap teaching method that scales well with class size.)
So to answer your concerns I tracked down the publication in PNAS: http://www.pnas.org/content/ea...
To quote from the article:
The data we analyzed came from two types of studies: (i) randomized trials, where each student was randomly placed in a treatment; and (ii) quasirandom designs where students self-sorted into classes, blind to the treatment at the time of registering for the class
In other words, if I understand the article correctly, the authors only considered studies where active learning was contrasted with traditional lectures in the same course! Therefore it seems likely that active learning is a good idea, regardless of whether the topic is hard or easy. (By the way, active learning doesn't necessarily have to involve fun and games, although if a student, in general, doesn't think that learning is fun, perhaps he or she should consider doing something else...)
For the details, see http://www.autosec.org/pubs/cars-usenixsec2011.pdf. (Pretty scary reading. In this case they are also able to disable the brakes and they are also able to engage the brakes on only one of the front wheels for all sorts of "fun"...)