A few years back, I wrote a piece on the effectiveness of lectures as a teaching tool. I decided to revisit this topic to see what is in the educational literature now. Previously, there were a lot of negative judgments about lectures, fueled by a study that defined a "learning pyramid" that reported lectures had the lowest retention rate compared to other teaching methods (Mosaica, 1996). With the emergence of research about the role of active learning on retention, lectures continued to be vilified. However, despite the widespread messages that lecture is an ineffective and obsolete teaching method, there is a resurgence of substantive challenges and debates to this accuracy. The truth is many of us enjoy lecturing, and despite all the research on active learning, it is still one of the most common methods used in higher education (Weimer, 2019b). However, there is evolving significant evidence that the data from which this "learning pyramid" was built was not based on empirical information or evidence-based research, and the percentages assigned to the amount of learning regarding lectures lacked consistency and validation (Letrud and Hernes, 2018).
I believe what is important here is recognizing what has always been true. It is up to us as educators to determine the best method to use for teaching whatever content or material we have to teach and to take into consideration doing it in such a way that fosters learning based on what we now know about how the brain learns. When we factor all of this together - lecture is still very much a valuable method because sometimes it just makes sense to "tell" students the information.
With that said, there are ways to improve lecture delivery and make it more "interactive." I am sure we all have memories of that teacher who stood behind the podium, droning on for hours in a monotonous voice, and never looked up from their notes. I think we would all agree this is not effective for learning. However, I would also bet you can recall at least one professor or teacher who used lectures predominantly. And because that teacher was so effectively engaging, motivating, and interesting - when the class was over, you couldn't believe 3 hours had gone by! So what was the difference?
The lecturer made the lecture interactive and engaging. They stepped away from "traditional" lecture, where information is communicated in one direction from teacher to student with little to no other activity during class time, to interactive lecturing. So what is interactive lecturing? Simply stated, it is intentionally interspersing active learning activities at different points throughout the lecture. I suspect many of you already do this.
As defined by Barkley & Major (2018), when used effectively, a lecture can provide students with information drawn from multiple sources, not just the textbook. The lecturer can present information that may be otherwise unavailable to students, such as sharing an experience or story to illustrate a point. It provides an opportunity for the teacher to illuminate differences and similarities and clarify confusing principles or concepts. A teacher using lectures can also role-model critical thinking and professionalism and engender motivation and interest.
Here are a few suggestions for ways to make lectures interactive (although I bet you are already doing some of these)!
How to decide: Lecture or Active Learning or Both
What makes a teacher effective is their ability to pull from the many different teaching approaches and use them to create an environment that motivates students to learn. The debate about whether lecture is a useful method is finally coming full circle. In the emerging evidence coming to light, lecture is making a comeback as an acceptable and worthy teaching method (Barkley & Major, 2018; Gooblar, 2019). The truth is, there is no single best method for teaching. The decision is the teacher's and should reflect what method is best for the content and the intended learning outcome. Case in point, if the material is new and students likely haven't had it before, then you may need to spend more time in an interactive lecture format to help address complexities and confusion. But if students come to class with some knowledge, consider ways to perhaps cut back on lecture and provide more inactive learning activities. The reality is, from day to day, our teaching methods should vary. Some days it may be all lecture, other days all interactive or a combination (Weimer, 2019a,b). All of this to say, lecture is still an effective teaching method when used appropriately and effectively and not as the only method.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P.(1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
Barkley, E.F., & Major, C.H. (2018). Interactive Lecturing: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Cerbin, W. (2018). Improving student learning from lectures. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4(3), 151-163.
Gooblar, D. (2019, January 15). Is it ever ok to lecture? The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-It-Ever-OK-to/245458
He, Y (2022, January 18). Quasi-active learning: An approach to blending active learning and lecture. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/teaching-strategies/active-learning/quasi-active-learning-an-approach-to-blending-active-learning-and-lecture/
Mosaica. (1996). Starting strong: A guide to pre-service training. Washington, D.C. : MOSAICA: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism.
Weimer, M. (2019a, June 24). Lecture or Active Learning? When to Decide. The Teaching Professor.https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/for-those-who-teach/lecture-or-active-learning-when-to-decide/
Weimer, M. (2019b, February 1). Lectures and prior knowledge: Helping students make sense of new material. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/for-those-who-teach/lectures-and-prior-knowledge-helping-students-make-sense-of-new-material/