Is the lecture still fit for purpose?

Teaching and learning scholars from the around globe give their opinion on the future of the traditional lecture

June 14, 2019
University lecturer

As classroom analytics improve, students with different learning needs enter higher education, and the way in which we find and retain information evolves, the role of the traditional lecture is called into question. Is it the most effective teaching method? Is the sage on the stage a better gauge of their students’ engagement than evidence-based learning?

Teaching and learning experts from around the world weigh-in on the discussion. One argues that the lecture is just one tool of many that any skilled teaching professional possesses, while another says the lecture has no place in a learning environment to begin with. 

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Reader's comments (4)

Of course there are lectures (yawn) and Lectures (interesting, engaging, exciting, even enjoyable!) so we shouldn't stereotype the lecture. I don't agree with the evolutionary arguments against the lecture at all. Here's a curation list around higher ed lectures: But if you read only one, read this great paper by Sarah French & Gregor Kennedy: "Reassessing the Value of University Lectures"
The person who ‘knows’ more will always need/have to teach the person who ‘knows’ less inside some mutually contracted formats . And the transaction must need involve some ‘lector’ or “sage on stage” moments. Exact design of those moments depends as much on the one who knows less as on the other who knows more... a moving average of two worlds. Basil jide fadipe.
We need to ask ourselves what lectures are for? Are they to teach students to learn about a topic? Is it about facilitating their learning by pointing out the path or is it to provoke their thinking? Lecturers who can teach, facilitate learning, provoke thinking AND engage students in day-to-day learning as their collaborators in learning are capable of inspiring students to learn at the highest level through stimulating lectures. So definitely there is a place for lectures ☺ Acram Taji Professor Emeritus Sultan Idris Education University Perak, Malaysia
Many thanks to Commenter 1, kiwirip, for the link to the French and Kennedy paper. Thorough, well-evidenced, thoughtful, and thus very useful and interesting in many ways. As I often emphasise to students, 'This is not a substitute for reading the material yourself'-- but three key points of the paper are: - There is nothing like sufficient, reliable evidence to support the common claim that lectures are worse than other teaching methods at promoting learning. - There are no or hardly any courses which use lectures as the only teaching method, so decrying lectures as failing to do X, Y, or Z is silly. We should be considering what lectures bring, or may bring, to the mix; and the authors then give a good list of things that traditional, face-to-face, 'sage on stage' lectures may bring to the mix. - As with most other things in life, what matters is not only, and sometimes not at all, what is done but how it's done. Lectures of the traditional kind can "function as a model for the students, illustrating to them ... the ways in which an expert approaches questions or problems", "the ongoing workings of a scholarly mind" (p 9). The problem with this last bit is that researching and writing this kind of lecture-- applying one's own mind to current questions and problems in the field, and analysing them down to the level of clarity needed for students-- is very difficult and time-consuming. And, so far as I am aware, hardly any English universities take this into account, either in terms of 'work allocation models' or in terms of what is valued. The result is a powerful incentive against first-rate lectures.

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