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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 likes this
  • Bob Ertischek
    Bob Ertischek Melissa, this is a wonderful piece. I like the "Lecture-Interrupting" activities you provided too! Perhaps the real question is, will this information convince pure lecturers to try something new?
    November 18, 2013 - 2 like this
  • Melissa  Hudler
    Melissa Hudler Bob, I'm glad you like it! I hope it does convince the traditionalists to venture out a bit. The activities I link to in the post are easy and not very time-consuming, so there's no reason not to try them! Baby steps. . .
    November 18, 2013 - 1 likes this
  • Rich Olexa
    Rich Olexa Thanks for sharing the tips! I read and commented on the cell phone post, which kind of led me to post about presentation style. What I find interesting is how these topics all seem to be related to yours. Students are unengaged. How do we make it better? It seems that there are quite a few ways, and like Bob, I wonder if this will convince the pure lecturers (the majority I think) to try something new. My hypothesis is that "pure lecturers," those who deliver a one-way information dum...  more
    November 22, 2013 - 1 likes this
  • Melissa  Hudler
    Melissa Hudler Rich, thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I've been working against a tight deadline and thus haven't had much time to read the latest posts here, but that will all change with the coming of the new week :) Student engagement is so multi-layered that it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint what we need to change to achieve better engagement in our own classrooms. That's why I like the mid-semester evaluation: a stop, start, keep doing form that lets me know how and what I might need t...  more
    November 22, 2013 - 1 likes this