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What Happens (or Doesn’t) When We Lecture

  • It’s no secret that today’s students, raised on technology and nourished by social media, find the traditional classroom lecture difficult to attentively sit through. If students prefer texting to email because email takes too long to access and read, imagine how they perceive a 50- or 75-minute lecture (1). At this point, you may be thinking, That’s their problem. I’m giving them the information they need to know to pass the course. If they want to pass, they’ll pay attention. All true. However, it’s not just about discipline. It’s also about biology.


    The trend toward active and collaborative learning in higher education is supported by substantial research that proves such activities result in better and deeper learning. The same has not been proven for the lecture model. In fact, the reverse has been proven. The chart below shows brainwave activity during several daily activities (2). Notice that the brain is more active during sleep than during a lecture-based class. 



    With content so easily accessible via print and electronic media, lecture has certainly outlived its usefulness as the primary mode of teaching. I stress the qualifier primary because some amount of lecture is necessary in order to explain concepts, theories, etc. However, considering the research (the above chart included), it is pedagogically and professionally responsible to question the effectiveness of lecture as a primary teaching method. The pyramid that follows provides alternative methods and their learning effectiveness (3).teach%2520others%2520while%2520you%2520are%2520still%2520learning-thumb.gif


    So just who does benefit from lecture? We do. According to Dr. Ellen Weber, “teachers retain 90% more through the process of lecturing.” This makes sense, since lecturers are the most active participants in a lecture. Our passive audience, on the other hand, suffers. So what should we do? There’s no need to completely abandon lecture. However, we can engage our students and their brains by implementing the active lecture method, in which active and collaborative activities are incorporated before and during the lecture period. Follow the link to see this in action during a physics class:

    This link will take you to a list of lecture-interrupting activities that are effective and efficient:

    For more on the negative effects of lecturing on the brain, read


    Happy teaching!



    2. “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity.”









  • Ron Krate and Pilar Pangelinan like this
  • Susan Farber
    Susan Farber the link to the lecture interrupting activities, created by Boise State, is no longer active (May 12, 2015).
    May 12, 2015
  • Melissa  Hudler
    Melissa Hudler Thank you, Susan. I just updated the link, so it should work now.
    May 12, 2015
  • Chris Pilkington
    Chris Pilkington Thank you for the lecture-interrupting activities however the Youtube link stated that it was unavailable?
    December 14, 2015
  • Melissa  Hudler
    Melissa Hudler Hi Chris, thank you for letting me know. I updated the url. Enjoy!
    December 14, 2015