Does the lecture format have a place in higher education?

Is the “Lecture format” on its way out in higher education? Should lectures be replaced by active learning teaching strategies? Does the lecture format have a place in higher education?

An interesting opinion article was published in the New York Times entitled “Lecture me. Really.” Below is the link to the article:

This article addresses some interesting issues for discussion.

Worthen states “Lectures are essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship.”

I agree with many of Worthen’s arguments. Lecturing can be an effective and efficient teaching method to achieve a particular learning objective, just as other teaching methods (e.g., role playing, collaborative groups, etc.) can be used as tools to effectively and efficiently achieve specific learning outcomes.

However, I disagree with Worthen on several issues—particularly the issue that she seems to feel that choosing to use a lecture format vs. active learning teaching method is an either/or decision. The tone of her article indicates that a professor must choose to use either a lecture format or an active learning teaching approach during a class period or for an entire course.

I do not see these two teaching methods as mutually exclusive. Using a lecture format does not mean that you cannot incorporate active learning teaching methods in the class and throughout the lecture—is does not have to be an either/or decision.   Teachers should use the appropriate teaching method for the particular learning outcome they are helping learners to achieve.

During the Promoting Student Success Summit that was held on August 18, 2015, I introduced a draft of a model for promoting active learning in the classroom called PALM (Personalized Active Learning Model). This model was developed by several faculty members during the summer of 2015 as a way to help DSU faculty members who would like to use more active learning teaching strategies in their courses. During the introduction to PALM, I tried to clearly emphasize that that model was one approach (of many approaches) to help faculty members integrate more active learning in their courses—it was not an all-in-one model to be used for all learning situations and contexts.

The use of this model can be an effective tool for faculty members (depending on the teacher’s desired learning outcomes); just as other teacher methods can be effective tools depending on the desired learning outcome. The type of teaching method a faculty member uses should be determined based on several variables, such as the desired learning outcomes, nature of the learners, the number of learners, learning environment, instructional context, instructional constraints and limitations, etc.

Some faculty members have expressed to me that the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) is trying to abolish the lecture on campus—this is NOT the case. Using a lecture approach to deliver instruction can be a very effective and efficient strategy to achieve particular learning objectives.

While there may be a few people who would like to abolish the lecture approach in higher education, I believe most people have a different view—i.e., to use the most appropriate teaching method for the desired learning outcome—sometimes that teaching method will be a lecture format, sometimes it will be a role play, sometimes it will involve using collaborative groups, sometimes it will involve experiential learning, etc.

What do you think of Worthen’s article or my comments?

Submitted by Bruce Harris, Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning.

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1 Comment

  1. Drew Wilcox

     /  October 21, 2015

    This was a great article. I think many misinterpreted the purpose and/or message. I use lecture in some courses, but interject it with activities for students, such as polleverywhere, or group work. I am also working on flipping my class this semester to allow more hands on time, which is needed in physical therapy education. I can say that in my past experience as a student, including courses here at Dixie, I had professors that lectured the “old school” way and were very engaging and entertaining, bringing students into the conversation. Each technique, or method, is a tool in the toolbox that allow us to customize our teaching.

    In healthcare, there is not one treatment to treat every patient. We must master and utilize a variety of treatments as each patient is unique. Teaching is no different.



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