This brings me to the one-hour format. Conference talks, lectures in universities, periods in schools and the ‘one-hour’ of e-learning pricing model, all of these fall foul of the deep addiction to the ‘hour of learning’ delivered as a lecture.
- Babylonian hour: we only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system. It has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.
- Passive observers: lectures turn students into passive observers. Research shows that participation increases learning, yet few lecturers do this (Brophy & Good, 1986; Fisher & Berliner, 1985; Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1984).
- Attention fall-off: our ability to retain information falls off badly after 10-20 minutes. The simple insertion of three ‘two-minute pauses’ led to a difference of two letter grades in a short and long-term recall test (1987, Winter).
- Note-taking: lectures rely on note taking, yet note-taking is seldom taught, massively reducing their effectiveness (Saski, Swicegood, & Carter, 1983).
- Disabilities: even slight disabilities in listening, language or motor skills make lectures ineffective, as it is difficult to focus, discriminate and note-take quickly enough in a lecture (Hughes & Suritsky, 1994).
- One bite at cherry: if something is not understood on first exposure there’s no opportunity to pause, reflect of get clarification. This ‘one bite of the cherry’ approach to learning is against all that we know in the psychology of learning.
- Cognitive overload: lecturers load up talks with too much detail leading to cognitive overload. In addition they often go ‘off on one’, with tangential material.
- Tyranny of location: you have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time.
- Tyranny of time: you have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.
- Poor presentation: many lecturers have neither the personality nor skills to hold the audience's attention.
‘Lectures were once useful; but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary. If your attention fails, and you miss a part of a lecture, it is lost; you cannot go back as you do upon a book' Samuel Johnson