Nov 29
Is a Lecture Ever the Right Teaching Method?

Recently, I heard a student comment in the hallway about lectures. This student said, “Lectures are so boring. The information goes over my head." Yikes, I thought: I sometimes use lectures in my teaching, so her comment touched a nerve for me. 

Since that day, I've done some thinking about how lectures could be acceptable within the context of applied learning that we have at RRC. I'd love your comments and feedback on the guidelines I've drafted:

Effective lectures are actually 2-way conversations: No one likes to be talked at, so the key is to bring the students into the lecture by peppering the talk with questions that encourage them to respond and contribute to the evolving conversation. In addition, I intersperse activities – individual or small group – into the lecture to keep them engaged in the learning. 

Productive lectures are hard work: Lecturing is not just talking; it's planning and practising and revising. It must be designed for the specific group of students in the course, and those students must be taught how to get the most out of the lecture – this can include effective note taking, active listening, and probing questioning.  

Meaningful lectures go beyond the textbook: It's not about “speaking" the textbook; it's about bringing key concepts and ideas alive by talking about them as a first step in the learning journey. The next step is for the students to translate their new knowledge into applied skills and abilities. Animate the teaching with examples, stories and additional sources that expand the students' thinking and their sense of potential. 

Memorable lectures require personality: Every minute of teaching is performance art of one kind or another. Bring your best energy and most dynamic personality to it, and expect the same of the students in their role. Teaching and learning both take energy, focus and commitment.

What do you think? Am I just trying to make myself feel better or can lecturing be good and appropriate teaching sometimes?


Do you use lectures to teach? Have you sworn off them? Tell us about your experience as an instructor or as a student. Sign in above, then comment below to join the conversation. ​


For my Customer Service cou...

For my Customer Service course in Hospitality, I took one lecture, 'Dealing with difficult customers', and had my students review a problem first with a partner. They reviewed the problem and had to come up with solutions. I then proceeded to do the lecture about the topic and they were able to relate to the activity they had just completed while I was reviewing the course material. At the end of the lecture, they went back to their solutions and were able to revise it based on the information presented during the lecture. In the past, I would lecture and then give them the problem. By making them think first they seemed, for the most part, more engaged as I was lecturing. This is not a solution for all topics but it worked for this one, especially as this was a course at 8 am. Also I was able to relate back to the problem and used active questioning during the lecture.  
Picture Placeholder: Jean-Marc Blanc
  • Jean-Marc Blanc
 on 11/29/2019 9:25 AM

Thank you for surfacing thi...

Thank you for surfacing this discussion Amanda.  I too struggle with insecurity creep with when, how much, and what topics are best suited for lecture style classroom delivery.  Typically over the span of a topic, I tend to lecture more at the front end to establish key terminology and concepts, then integrate experiential learning after the foundation has been created.

Your comment about lectures being a two-way conversation resonated with me.  One thing I find challenging is engaging the more introverted and quiet students in the discussion.  A unique approach that I completely ripped off is giving every student one minute of time.  That minute is theirs.  They can speak about the topic, or decide to remain quite the entire time.  At the end of the 60 seconds, if someone is mid-sentence, they have to stop speaking and let it be (time management!).  With this approach, even if students do not have anything to say, they are still attentive and hopefully feel part of the classroom community.
Picture Placeholder: Lindsay Mulholland
  • Lindsay Mulholland
 on 11/29/2019 9:30 AM

Amanda, I completely agree ...

Amanda, I completely agree with the guidelines you've created. Much of the course material I taught during my time in Greenspace Horticulture was foundational and information-heavy, which is where, traditionally, lectures are the default. I developed a conversational, story based lecture style that I think was very effective. Asking guiding questions that link the material being covered to other classes or previously covered material, telling stories about my time in industry that illuminated the topic, asking for their experiences, ensuring an open dialogue to questions were welcome and expected, meant that students were engaged with the material, each other and me.

I think the key is to think about how students are integrated with the material, centering them and their learning, rather than thinking about the information you are to bestow upon them for their edification.
Picture Placeholder: Jayne M Geisel
  • Jayne M Geisel
 on 11/29/2019 9:49 AM

Great discussion! I have to...

Great discussion! I have to say that the word "lecture" makes me cringe because it reminds me of an authoritarian professor wagging a finger at me! I suppose what I do is "lecture", as Lindsay has said, at the front-end of a class - but I like to consider it more of a multi-way discussion - I put up the learning outcomes that we will discuss for that day and start leading the discussion, encouraging learners to jump in any time, offering their experiences, questions, and collaboration. Sometimes I'll ask - "what does this word mean - can someone Google that for us?" and that leads us down another path of learning. Interaction is key, otherwise I can totally understand the perspectives of "it's going over my head" or "it's boring." When I ask for feedback, learners usually identify the discussions as being the most interesting part of the course, so I will continue to work towards meeting their needs in this respect. Thanks for the amazing comments!
Picture Placeholder: Ruth Lindsey-Armstrong
  • Ruth Lindsey-Armstrong
 on 11/29/2019 11:29 AM

Thank you, Amanda.  I read ...

Thank you, Amanda.  I read the following passage on the bus just the other day

"What kinds of results does lecturing, even good lecturing, produce? A long history of research indicates lecturing has limited effectiveness in helping students

 -retain information after a course is over
-develop an ability to transfer knowledge to novel situations
-develop skill in thinking or problem solving
-achieve affective outcomes, such as motivation for additional learning or a change in attitude"

During some training I had this week, it seemed that the trainer's checking off of the module learning outcomes was more important than my learning them. This probably wouldn't be considered good lecturing; regardless, those outcomes were never mine -- and my engagement and interest for training that I wanted disappeared.   

Fink, L. D. (2003) Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  

Picture Placeholder: Kevin Boon
  • Kevin Boon
 on 11/29/2019 12:22 PM