Why Lecture is Still a Good Teaching Method

If you have been in education even for a short while, I suspect you may have heard that lecture is the least effective teaching method and has the lowest retention rate. This information has been published in the educational literature for decades, commonly appearing in what is known as the “learning pyramid” (Mosaica, 1996). In this pyramid, a lecture is reported to have the lowest retention percentage compared to other teaching methods. In light of more recent research that has illuminated the role of active learning on retention, lecture has been further vilified. However, despite the widespread acceptance that lecture is an ineffective and obsolete teaching method, there are ongoing substantive challenges and debates to this accuracy. There is 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 admit I, too, fell into the belief that lectures should be avoided as much as possible. But it never fully sat right in me. On the one hand, I understood the criticism of the method, but on the other hand, I also knew it had value. Perhaps I had this perspective because I enjoy lecturing. I saw it as my opportunity to engage the students in learning. So I had to ask myself, is it really such a bad teaching method?

I would venture to guess that many of us came through our educational programs, including PA education, in a heavy lecture-based model. Yet, we are all here to say we were successful at achieving what we needed to learn and earned our degrees and certifications. But lately, lecture has almost become a bad word within education circles virtually to the point of trying to remove it from a curriculum or course altogether. But here’s the thing, lecture is still an effective method of teaching when used appropriately. The problem is somewhere along the way it became the only method used to teach, especially in higher education and in programs like PA education.

I am sure we all have memories of that teacher who stood behind the podium, droned 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 in the classroom, 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.  And when a lecture is combined with active learning, it is an effective teaching method.

A few suggestions for ways to make lectures interactive (although I bet you are already doing some of these)!

  1. pre-planning is required – ask yourself how can I make the lecture engaging and interactive.
  2. “chunk” your class time – the concept of chunking in education refers to intentionally breaking the material you plan to teach into smaller or shorter segments and providing the opportunity for students to work with or apply this material or skills before moving to the next section or chunk. For example, in a 50-minute lecture, there could be 20 minutes of lecture followed by an activity.
  3. Add active learning activities. There are many ways you can make your lecture interactive. Here are just a few ideas:
    • Leave blanks in the PowerPoints/Keynote presentation. This may require you to have two versions, a faculty one you use in class and a student one you post for them. Rather than giving them all the information on the slide, leave some blank which requires them to fill it in during the lecture – this can be true for diagrams as well – give them the picture on the slide, but let them draw or circle and label the diagram.
    • Develop guides, worksheets, and class assignments that students must complete in class. These could be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups.
    • Use the Socratic Method (one of my favorites) – intentional dialogue through the use of questions and answers to stimulate critical thinking. Think of it more as asking questions but letting the students find their answers, rather than a traditional question-answer dynamic where the students ask questions, and the teacher responds.
  4. As a lecturer, be sure to move around the room, be enthusiastic, and consider sharing appropriate personal or professional experiences or stories to illustrate a concept further.

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. There is no single best method for teaching. Thus, in the emerging evidence coming to light, lecture is making a comeback as an acceptable and worthy teaching method (Barkley & Major, 2018; Gooblar, 2019). 


Barkley, E.F., & Major, C.H. (2018). Interactive Lecturing: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okorafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, P. (2014, June 10). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS 111(23), 8410-8415. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Gooblar, D. (2019, January 15). Is it ever ok to lecture? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-It-Ever-OK-to/245458

Horgan, J. (2003). Lecturing for learning. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds.), Handbook for teaching and learning in higher education (2nd ed.). (pp. 75-90). Sterling, VA: Kogan Page Limited.

Kelly, M. (2019, November 18). Advantages and disadvantages of lecturing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lecture-pros-and-cons-8037

Letrud, K., & Hernes, S. (2018). Excavating the origins of the learning pyramid myths. Cogent Education 5, 1-17. doi:10.1080/2331186X.2018.1518638

Mosaica. (1996). Starting strong: A guide to pre-service training. Washington, D.C. : MOSAICA: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism.


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