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Should we still lecture in the classroom?

I invite you to read the article, Don't Give Up on the Lecture. Have we moved away from traditional teaching methods such as a lecture because we determined it's 'old school?" The author points out the huge popularity of TED Talks - engaging lectures on interesting topics. More importantly, lectures - when well designed - give students time to reflect on what was learned. There has been a huge push to move away from the 'sage on the stage' and be more of a facilitator, but as educators - we are the experts on the content we are teaching. So, how do we balance effective lecturing? Or, is there still room in education for lectures? What do you think? 


Kathy Tracey



Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Hello colleagues, Thanks for sharing this interesting article, Kathy. As the author notes, TED Talks are popular for a reason, and good lecturers can powerfully capture an audience's attention. I have actually thought about this question a lot since I have had some teachers who were fantastic lecturers, and I know I learned a great deal from them. 

However, as Abigail Walthausen notes, "Richard Gunderman argues that the craft of the lecture is key to its value, maintaining that 'Good lecturing is an art, and like other arts such as painting, musicianship, and writing, it takes real dedication and many hours of practice to excel at'” [emphasis added].

It's clear that not everyone is good at lecturing. Personally, I've had a lot more classes with teachers who were not good at lecturing, and --to be honest -- I do not consider myself a good lecturer. What I would say is that those who excel at lecturing should do it. Importantly, they should find ways to ensure learners are actively engaged in the lecture.

What might be some ways to keep an audience engaged during a lecture?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Paul Jurmo's picture

Many of us might have seen the research that says lecturing is one of the least (if not the least) effective ways of helping learners learn.  But a good "lecture," if used properly, can be a way to introduce new information or perspectives to learners, or refresh their memories about something they've learned about before (perhaps through reading of some material or viewing a video prior to the lecture), or perhaps inspire learners to think differently about a subject.

While listening to this oral presentation of information, learners can practice note-taking, pick up tips on how they might make similar presentations, and absorb how the speaker pronounces words and uses grammatical constructions and vocabulary.  Learners can then use the new information presented in the lecture as a springboard for further investigation, or to prepare their own mini-lecture to present back to the group.  Learning how to deal with lectures (either as an audience member or presenter) is important, as most of our learners will need to deal with lectures in academic or workplace or other roles (e.g., consumers of the news) they face as adults.

If facilitators are to use a lecture format as part of a tool kit of learning activities, they should keep in mind some guidelines for effective instruction such as being sure the subject matter is relevant/motivating and at the right level for the learner.  

And, of course, how the information is presented is also vital.  For example, we should avoid "Death by PowerPoint" (overloading the audience with too much information as they sit captively). Conversely, the lecturer should be clear, concise, and avoid jargon or other terminology that confuses or turns the audience off.  A little humor and humility help, too, as does the use of visually-appealing graphics or other audio-visual tools, as well as good body language, appropriate dress, and enthusiasm about the topic.  The speaker should also be sure to do a good introduction (to explain the purpose and content of the lecture at the beginning, to orient the audience), invite questions and comments at appropriate spots, and -- if appropriate -- use the lecture as an introduction to other activities in which the learners reflect on and apply what is presented in the lecture. And, if after your best attempts the audience still appears ready to doze off, invite them to get up and dance.

End of Lecture

Paul Jurmo

Stephanie Lindberg's picture

I teach both HSE and college-level courses. I find I have to do some lecture in both, but I really focus on short lecture to deliver some information, and then design an activity to practice the information. My first evaluation/observation in my college class had this comment: Shorten your lecture and increase the activity time! Students were really engaged in the activity!

My lecture that day was probably in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 minutes and it felt long even to me. 

Engagement during lecture is important to me, so I pepper my lecture with questions from beginning to end. Sometimes I work in student practice within the lecture (especially with math) I also ask for questions and have students summarize a bit before we practice. Long lectures were difficult for me as a student and I find most students feel the same way. Opportunity to practice when you hear in lecture is essential. In my classes, I try to keep my lectures to about 15 minutes. We often start with prompting from what students should have read or watched (videos) outside of class, then I expand on and review that information before students practice something. 


S Jones's picture
One hundred

we can teach students to try different ways to engage their brains during lecture.   I weary of proposing One Thing (e.g., TAKE NOTES BY HAND!!!)  ...there are some good resources for learning how to learn    describes some, and the book "Make it stick" describes why and how just repeating things ... doesn't actually help much with learning... and what things do.   (I found a PDF version of it online, too... but it's in our library across the hall...)   

One of my favorite lecturers would tell us what we should be drawing, and compliment students with, say, a bunch of different color pencils (it was a course in Java) .   I don't know why he was so engaging but he was... I think he was just really good at reading the class and elaborating or pausing at the right moment.  Now, this was also a "computer major's" course and most people in the room were reasonably confident about their abilities to learn, which helps... 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

I invite you to review Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic. From the article, "The first job of a teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject. That doesn’t have to be done by waving your arms and prancing around the classroom; there’s all sorts of ways to go at it, but no matter what, you are a symbol of the subject in the students’ minds."

Is this a fair assessment of education? Is our role moving to performance art? While I agree that good teaching leads to engaged learning, is this something we can accomplish in our classroom? How do you build, according to Teller, "purpose that is action, passion that is feelings, and perception that is intellectual content."

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article.