Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 reasons to dump lectures

I give a lot of talks at conferences but always make it clear that this no way to deliver learning. Unfortunately people are addicted to the format. Why? It’s easy just to turn up and listen. It’s a lazy format for lazy learners. Also, I’m astonished at the number of people who turn up for conferences talks and take no notes. It’s is like turning up for a tennis match with no racquet.

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.

  1. Babylonian hour: we only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system. It has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. Note-taking: lectures rely on note taking, yet note-taking is seldom taught, massively reducing their effectiveness (Saski, Swicegood, & Carter, 1983).
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Tyranny of location: you have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time.
  9. Tyranny of time: you have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.
  10. 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


Staying healthy through swimming - Strength, Flexibility and Technique said...

Although I agree 90% with your statements (100% on the disabilities) I don't think you should dump all lectures.

Maybe that is not what you are saying but you don't list any reasons to go to lectures either.

I would go go lectures that 1) you are interested in or 2) are related to your major/career. I think you need to add 1-3 reasons why you should go to lectures. A good reason to go to a lecture is that you need all the information you need to get the best grade in your class you can. I agree that you should be able to read everything in a lecture but there is no substitute to a live teacher (unless you've invented some AI nobody is aware of :-) )

Just as well that I am more likely to remember 1-3 reasons to go to lectures than the 10 reasons not to go. Although the 10 reasons are informative the three lend better to critical or strategic thinking and 3 < 10 (easier to remember) :-)


Richard Sheehy said...

I also agree that there are reasons to attend lectures. There are lectures/presentations that I would like to attend when I find the subject interesting.

There are also more effective learning experiences than lectures. If the information to be learned is more than just an introduction to a topic then using project-based lessons would be a more engaging and interesting activity.

Time and place are artificial restrictions posed upon the learner and the instructor. Increasingly, implementations of technology will enable collaboration irrespective of time and place. What will be important is what is learned not the amount of time spent in class.

Anne said...

Great summary! I was at your lecture (Boo Hiss) at Educa Berlin which I hugely enjoyed and wanted to know if the film clip you showed was publicly available.

Mark Frank said...

Good points - but I think these are mostly reasons to dump bad lectures - not reasons to dump lectures.

Please see http://learncontext.blogspot.com/2007/12/10-reasons-for-using-lectures.html

Clark said...

You need to understand the cognitive reasons when and why lectures (as well as group breakouts, a later topic). If you're deeply engaged in an activity, lectures by someone similarly engaged can serve as a great refection opportunity (learning = action + reflection). Of course, they have to be the right lecture, hence parallel tracks at a conference.

Anonymous said...

Coming to this rather late, I agree completely. The only educational value, it seems to me, in bringing a group of people together at a set time in a set place is if they can interact with each other - ask questions of the lecturer, discuss the topic with other students, or ask for clarification of something they don't understand. If it's just one person reading from a set of notes (which it usually is), why not just deliver it as a podcast? Or let people read the printed notes? Or, preferably, both?

Anonymous said...

I taught a large class of 850+ students and had plenty of scope to think about interaction in that context.

I learned something important about lectures from the perspective of students. Lectuers are essentially social experiences. You like to sit next to your friends, and chatter with them via text. Watching a lecture that is filmed is not the same as being in the room and reacting with other people and shaping the experience together. My mother's generation resists watching movies on DVD for the same reason. There is something sociable in sitting down to the TV knowing your friend down the road is doing the same thing in front of hers.

And so why do lecturers turn the lecture into an occasion where students grimace in pain which they pretend because it would be too painful to admit how bad they are. Mainly because they don't know how to hold a room. It is not a moral choice they are making. They just don't know how and universities choose to pretend that good lecturing is either genius and cannot be developed or something mechanical that we can copy. We need to get in the drama coaches who work with executives to help lecturers develop style and charisma - spin doctors in other words. Once people have the basics and are comfortable with a style that is their own, lectures will be happier places.

Anonymous said...

As Instructional Designing is a very new field and I had to get used to the VSS and all templates and different procedures, I used to take notes. I am often rediculed for taking notes. Lately I have started taking notes quietly when the critical people are not around. When I read your post I realised that taking notes is not an indication of a bad memory. How one persons effort, memory, learning can effortlessly transfer and solve problems of another! This was not possible earlier and gradually as I read through this vast knowledge I can understand your frustrations when you repeatedly suggest people should record and share relevant knowledge. While studying for my postgraduation in Environment I came across a wonderful book. This book by a Gandhian Anupam Mishra, talks of the collective knowledge. When I am reading your posts I feel I am maturing in my outlook. Not long ago, when my fater talked of community, I laughed telling him that what does the community do for us to think of giving back. Now I realise that life is very short and before we die the most important thing is to give back in some form. It can be caring for the weak in the community, caring for Mother Earth, caring for children. One thing I want to share that I do not understand. I go along nicely with most of the people but I do not get along with my mother-in-law. I am freaked out and don't know how to handle her. Sometimes the things are so bad I feel like running away. Where I don't know. She is coming back on fifteenth and already I am like what am going to speak. Such stress, she was very crafty with me in past. But if I am really a balanced person I should not bring out the past. But this keeps cropping up. Silly Indian values.I've lived with her most of my life and due to these sick values and my husband being the only son can't live seperately.She called me devil recently and now I feel when she has already called me one do I need to be the humble, respecting daughter-in-law. I am not diplomatic or this could have been handled. I don't even want to be at home to recieve her but I will have to be, husband rules that out, not being home. What should I be? Polite, indifferent, dry, terse? I really wish the learnig that enables me could make me smart and matured to handle over smart people like her.

Barry L. Ickes said...

While married to a school teacher, I am without the educational training but am called upon to teach and train in a number of venues. My lectures are open forums that allow interact with my audience. I have found over the years, this method has aided the audience to 'own' the material themselves.

Donald Clark said...

Fair enough - but the vast amount of lectures are long, uninterrupted and of poor quality.

theotherdrx said...

So can we assume nothing has changed from 2007 to 2014?

Donald Clark said...

I think we safely assume that lectures still lecture but that students are now saddled with huge debts to pay for them.
Nothing has changed in that the body of evidence showing that lectures are a pathetic pedagogy still grows. See "It’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, physicist at Harvard http://bit.ly/1qxmvMo
Nothing chnages in that people like you can't seem to engage in debate but simply express platitudes.
I truly hope that no one actually pays a numpty like you to teach young people as your ctitical skills are less than zero. Glad to seee you're still reading my blog!