I was happy to discover that “Four things lecture is good for” by Robert Talbert comes to the defense of lectures. I’ve observed in the past that traditional lectures are very often dogged on, almost to the point of being unfair. Perhaps I’ve just wanted to play Devil’s advocate, but maybe the traditional lecturing style was the best we could do with what we knew in the past. Many learning theories are relatively young disciplines, with learning sciences and engineering education being younger still. Further, lecturing had to have some capabilities or it wouldn’t have been practiced. In fact, there might be certain fields or topics for which it is very useful.
As Talbert points out, there are some purposes for which lectures are useful. Of the four purposes listed as being “well-suited” to lectures, the sharing of “cognitive structures” stuck out to me. The Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research provides a set of principles for three learning theories, or what it calls “conceptual frameworks” of learning and knowing. In the cognitivist framework, one of the principles in designing instruction is to aim for “deep processing” of information:
The general idea of deep processing is that learners should understand the structure of information to be learned, such as the main ideas and how they relate to one another and to sub-ideas that might derive from them…
The more organized information is, the easier it is to remember and understand. In “Successful Lecturing: Presenting Information in Ways That Engage Effective Processing”, it is also presented that the provision of structure in lectures results in better learning. Providing students with outlines or knowledge maps (concept maps) of the lecture material results in better notes, better testing results, and better memorization (sidenote: if you’re interested in knowledge maps, you should check out The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge). Even as sparse as a title can be beneficial. At the other end of the spectrum, if outlines become too full and veer towards content, their benefits become negated:
Outlines containing only headings and subheadings are maximally effective in that they encourage note taking, whereas outlines that provide too much detail inhibit note taking