Deciding Whether to Lecture

When students are actively involved in classroom activities they learn more than when they are passive recipients of instruction.

The lecture approach has several strengths and weaknesses. Both must be taken in to consideration when deciding whether giving a lecture is the best option for a particular part of your course.

Lectures have long been the traditional mode of instruction in higher education, but other methods are often more effective in motivating and eliciting student learning.  If lecture is used in your course, consider ways to enhance lectures that engage students in more active learning.

Is the lecture the best way of presenting the subject matter to students?

You should ask yourself if the lecture is the best way for students to learn a given subject matter.  Would it be better to plan a field trip, set up a demonstration, use slides or video, conduct a discussion, have students present a panel, or write about the material?  Even in courses in which the lecture is traditional, you may want to use a different procedure for the sake of variety.  The lecture is not the only way of transmitting information; in many instances it is not even the best way. You should first decide on your learning outcomes and then choose methods and strategies that will help students achieve them (see Designing a Course).

The following, adapted from Improving Lectures by William E. Cashin of Kansas State University, is intended to help you evaluate the use of lecture in your classroom and identify ways to improve class sessions where it may be used.  For the full text, see the link to this article at the bottom of the page.

Strengths of the Lecture Approach

  • Lectures can communicate the speaker’s enthusiasm in a way that books or other media cannot.
  • Lectures can cover material not otherwise available, including original research or recent developments.
  • Lectures can organize material in a way that fits the needs or interests of a particular audience.
  • Lectures can convey large amounts of information.
  • Lectures can communicate to many listeners at the same time.
  • Lectures can model how professionals in a particular discipline approach a question or problem.
  • Lectures permit maximum teacher control.
  • Lectures present minimum threat to the student.
  • Lectures emphasize learning by listening.

Weaknesses of the Lecture Approach

  • Lectures lack feedback to the instructor about the students’ learning.
  • In lectures, the students are passive.
  • Students’ attention wanes quickly, in 15 or 25 minutes.
  • Information in lectures tends to be forgotten quickly.
  • Lectures presume that all students are learning at the same pace and level of understanding.
  • Lectures and not well suited to higher levels or learning.
  • Lectures are not well suited to complex detailed or abstract material.
  • Lectures require an effective speaker.
  • Lectures emphasize learning by listening.

Recommendations

Preparation and Organization

  1. Fit lecture to your audience. This means you need to gather some information about your listeners beforehand.
  2. Select a topic.  You will never be able to cover everything.  Selecting your topic will determine the focus of your lecture and provide context.
  3. Prepare an outline with five to nine major points.  The object of a lecture is not just to cover material, but to have the listeners learn.
  4. Organize your points.
  5. Decide upon minor points, or points you wish to include under each major point.
  6. Select examples.  Almost all writers agree that illustrations, etc., help people both to understand and to remember.
  7. Present more than one side of an issue.

Presentation and Clarity

  1. Speak clearly and loud enough to be heard.
  2. Avoid distracting mannerisms.
  3. Provide an introduction.
  4. Present an outline.
  5. Emphasize principles and generalizations.
  6. Repeat your points.
  7. Stress important points.
  8. Pause.  Give your listeners time to think, and to write.

Stimulation and Interest

  1. Use effective speech techniques; inflection, gestures, positions, pace of lecture.  Talk, do not read your lecture.
  2. Be enthusiastic.
  3. Start with a question, problem or controversy.
  4. Be relevant.  Use materials and examples that students can relate to.
  5. Use media.  Models, videos, recordings etc., make a lecture more vivid and immediate.
  6. Use humor.
  7. Provide change about every 15 minutes.  Stop for questions, move to a different part of the room, do something different.

Feedback and Interaction

  1. Look at your listeners.
  2. Solicit questions.
  3. Use discussion techniques and get the students actively involved in thinking about the material and give you feedback about what the students are learning.
  4. Use praise.
  5. Use a lecture committee.  Basically, it is a committee of students which meets with the instructor periodically to provide student feedback about how the course is progressing and to react to ideas for future classes.

Related Documents

How to Improve Classroom Lectures

This article, by Loren D. Reid, is from the American Association of University Professors.

Improving Lectures by William E. Cashin

Read this short idea paper from the POD Idea Center.

For more information please contact