Are lectures beneficial to student learning?

The idea of a lecture-oriented classroom was the only type of classroom that most students know prior to starting college and made up about 90 percent of my undergraduate classes with only a few being discussion-based. So, starting graduate school, not having really any lecture-oriented classes was a unique experience that I wasn’t completely ready for or fully expecting. I typically don’t choose to share much during class during discussions as I like to think over my thoughts more thoroughly before sharing.

Talbert started his post originally stating he typically extremely dislikes lecture-oriented, yet did think there were some positives including: modeling thought processes, sharing cognitive structures, giving context, and telling stories. I would definitely agree that all four of these are positives related to this type of class style, but I don’t think they are the only positives that can come from lectures.

While, he does present those four positive components, I appreciated how he acknowledges that he doesn’t believe that information transfer is a positive, but in fact it is more effective at “covering material.” Talbert also introduced an interesting shift of thinking for me, in that a lecture can be inspiring, yet still may not actually learn anything so it ultimately isn’t effective. I would challenge Talbert’s comment on this as I know several people who are able to retain information, most of the time myself, and are able to truly learn from some of these experiences in lecture-oriented classrooms. Many people gather the incorrect or incomplete information as there are many terrible lecture experiences, but there are some instructors who can make lectures interesting enough or can present the material in a way that allows for easier/better cognition and understanding of the material. I say all of this identifying that I might be slightly biased because of my positive experiences and great professors. My opinion has been changing slightly recently since I have been in more discussion-based classes recently, but I believe there are still pros/cons to both types of classroom styles as certain classes/majors require different things from their classes.

With all of that said, I do think something that Carnes mentioned in his article is important to acknowledge as there are many students that just go “through the motions” which could cause some of the negativity surrounding lectures. In order to improve globally, something in U.S. education needs to change, but I don’t know if it is necessary lectures that are causing this problem.

5 Replies to “Are lectures beneficial to student learning?”

  1. I can relate to this post quite a bit! I always favored lecture-based courses because these were what I was used to from undergrad (and some master’s courses) and more-so because I found comfort in the structure that a lecture course brought. However, I’ve had a recent epiphany about these courses. While I took down every word of every sentence that my professors lectured over, I haven’t really retained a lot of information from these purely lecture-based courses. The majority of information that I’ve really learned and retained was from lab portions of courses that involved hands-on experiences. I feel a lot like you in that my opinion is constantly evolving on teaching style. And I also agree that lecture-based courses should not be thrown out entirely. Nice post.

  2. We had a short debate in a different class last week about whether lectures or student-centered ideas were better. Obviously lectures won because it was the side I was on. One of the main points we made was that it doesn’t need to be the lecturer talking. Every 15-20 minutes take a break and ask the students to talk to each other about the material. It gives them time to think about it and allows them to refocus on the material when the lecturer begins again. Lectures also allow the instructor to make sure everyone is understanding the material before moving on. I do think lectures will always have a place, they just need to be tweaked to keep it engaging. In a fun stat that I made up, lectures deliver the most facts per class period compared to any other type of class format.

  3. Thank you for your post! I appreciate your reflection on the different lectures that you have been in that have been engaging. When you were thinking about the differences between the lectures that were terrible and the lectures that you got a lot out of, what were the main differences? Was one lecturer more engaging, did they incorporate student participation, did the class work together to solve problems? I am wondering if the lectures you felt were more beneficial and engaging were the ones that incorporated aspects of student-centered learning such as group work, group discussions, and interactions between the students and the instructors. And I agree with you that there are pros and cons to lectures. I think educators need to be more intentional when structuring their learning environments and not just default to lectures because that is what has been done previously. But there may be situations where lectures are a great format! Thanks for the post!

    And to the comment that Chris made: I think it is interesting that you argued that lectures are better than student-centered approaches because you can incorporate discussions (which is a more student-centered approach) into the lecture. That to me indicates that student-centered approaches are important to engage students in the learning. And I would completely disagree that the aim of a class should be to deliver the most facts in the timeframe. If that is the case, why not just give the students a book or a handout with all of the facts. Shouldn’t we as educators be helping students learn how to approach problems, understand underlying ideas and concepts, work with others, and engage in the learning process?

  4. While I am not a fan of traditional lecture-based classes, I think the quality of lecture-based courses really depends on the professor. A high-quality delivery of the course content through lecture requires outstanding teaching abilities, deep understanding of the course content, outstanding communication skills, etc. If a lecturer doesn’t possess these abilities, he/she should come up with a solution to reduce the time of lectures.
    Even with advanced teaching skills, passive learning is essentially boring and the lecturer should be able to engage students in some way in the discussion. As you mentioned, prior experience is a factor in having an interest in lectures. In practice-based majors, such as engineering, arts, and architecture, students may find it very difficult to maintain their focus on the lecture for a relatively long time.
    There are many criticisms of lecture-based classes and I think, regardless of the teacher’s expertise, the ideal approach is to have a mix of teaching methods. For example, the first 20-minutes of the class could be spent on the lecture, the second 20-minutes on quizzes, and the third 20-minutes on teamwork or active learning. This, I think, is a way to reduce the inefficiencies of lectures and enhance active learning in a session of 60 minutes.

  5. I appreciate that you shared your positive experiences with lectures because I think my biases lead me to not believe in them. I rarely hear of students sharing their positive experiences so this post was great to read! and also replying to Armin that I do also believe it can very much depend on the quality of the professors. I had classroom setting classes that I have also doze off in and it was very much due to professors not even trying to engage the class.

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