The Great Divide: Why Colleges Are So Reliant On Lecture Rather Than Hands-On Teaching

Posted by Tahlea Jankoski on April 25, 2016




Lecturing is one of the oldest teaching methods known to man. Ancient philosophers shared ideas by using this method. And as everyone knows, in addition to teaching by example, parents have used "lectures" since the beginning of time. 

Teaching the masses

Past generations of college students remember the large lecture halls with hundreds of students sitting captive, each with a professor delivering a dry, monotone message about an even dryer topic. However, teaching methods have evolved and are continuing to evolve. With the advent of technology, students know they have more choices. 

Though most students still opt for the social setting and physical presence of an instructor, they realize that the old lecture hall is not necessarily the most effective teaching method or ideal learning environment. It is virtually impossible to absorb all pertinent information presented during a lecture. Especially when lecture material is delivered quickly, a student's short-term memory is limited. 

Why do universities still focus on this method of teaching?

1. For classes with high student enrollment, this is the only way professors can have a physical presence and reach large numbers of student efficiently. 

2. Educators can have better control over time and how much information is delivered in a given amount of time. 

3. In this type of one-way setting, the instructor can control the direction of communication, without detours that commonly occur within a discussion-based setting. 

4. Once the professors has created the original lecture, the same lecture can be consistently given to different groups of students from year to year, without deviation. 

5. Lecture settings require the least amount of input from students, so it's the most time-efficient with respect to giving them large amounts of information. 

 The old ways aren't working

The limitations of the lecture method of teaching are generally recognized. If the goal of every qualified educator is to instill a hunger for learning, the method needs to be adjusted if it is still going to be used. Some suggestions include:

1. Slow down, Most students learn best in the physical presence of a teacher, but they also need the flexibility to ask questions ad explore thoughts. Build time into the lecture period for encouraging real-time discussion that will draw students' focus to the material. 

2. Ensure that students understand. Since each new bit of information typically builds upon previous information, particularly in certain topics such as math, it's important to respond immediately to student questions. Otherwise, if a question about one concept is postponed, the student is not likely to understand the following concept either. 

3. Take advantage of various teaching tools. Using demonstrations, visual aids, or hands-on experiences increases student interest, comprehension, and retention. 

4. Create practical-life applications. The golden teacher is the one who can (whenever practical) connect the conceptual material to a real-life application. These teaching moments will have a more memorable impact on students than straight lecture format. 


Most students still prefer the physical classroom to online learning. The effectiveness of lecture classes can be dramatically improved by teachers who understand how to best reach their students. While this can be challenging for large classes, students truly learn best when they can be more involved with the materials and discussion. 


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