Teaching a lecture course can be daunting for a number of reasons—namely the fact that they tend to be larger and more impersonal than, say, a discussion-based class. In lectures, the flow of information moves from the educator in charge to the audience at large, whether that’s 30 high school students, 300 college students or somewhere in between.
This format has entrenched its way into education likely because it’s a relatively straightforward way to teach large groups of learners at once. An analysis of more than 2000 science, mathematics and technology (STEM) classes found that 55 percent of time in classrooms is still spent on “conventional lecturing.” But it’s also somewhat controversial for this exact reason.
Many people feel that lecturing promotes passive learning in which students merely receive information from their instructors without necessarily participating. Proponents of active learning believe students fare better if they’re engaged with their education, finding fault with lecture-based classes in which students listen and take notes.
Are you teaching a lecture course this semester or in the future? Here are some considerations for you regarding lectures and learning.
Why Is Active Learning So Important?
As The Washington Post reports, one student found that “active learning leads to increases in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter, and that failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55 percent over the rates observed under active learning.”
In other words, active learning seems to boost retention of information—and therefore performance on examinations—while lecture-driven passive learning drives higher rates of failure. That’s not to say that all lectures facilitate passive learning, but when they do, students may perform worse on examinations than if the lecture had incorporated active learning.
Active learning asks students to engage. Instead of sitting back and taking notes or merely listening, students must get involved in some way. This tends to make lessons more impactful.
Tips for Boosting Active Learning in Lectures
What does active learning look like in action and how can educators bring it to lecture courses? Many instructors ask students to interact with course material using a classroom response system. This tool enables educators to embed live polls directly into their lectures, which is very useful for checking information retention—and making sure students stay “awake” for the duration of the lecture.
Classroom response technology of today has surpassed the need for “clickers,” requiring only mobile devices for students to engage in real time. Online polling is an efficient way for lecturers to crowdsource questions before examinations, deliver multiple-choice quizzes, take attendance in a lecture, check for concept retention along the way and more.
The Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning recommends boosting student collaboration in lectures to increase active learning. The reasoning here is that it’s easy to feel like just another face in the crowd during an average lecture; passive learning is amplified by a listening-only approach. Instructors can direct students to break up into partners or small groups to discuss concepts for several minutes, then ask groups to respond aloud or pass in the notes from their discussion. This facilitates a more active exchange of ideas between students.
The final thing you can do to incorporate active learning into your lecture-based course is simply deviate from your slides in a constructive way. Ask students to consider concepts in a creative way. Show media relevant to your lessons. Assign projects or tasks that ask students to think outside the box. Switching things up tends to be more memorable than teaching lessons in the same style day in and day out.
When you’re teaching a lecture course, consider the benefits of active learning and how you can make it a regular part of your teaching strategy.