Lectures are a barrier to the listener’s thinking.
The constant one-way transfer of information is like a dripping faucet. The information keeps coming and coming and coming.
And that constant drip of new data, facts, figures and info keeps the brain overwhelmed with new information. The listener is faced with a choice: listen to the new information or think about what they just heard. You can’t listen to the lecture and think about that information at the same time. You either do one or the other.
Small group and peer discussions foster learning and retention in ways the lecture never could. Adding peer discussion to a lecture is the winning formula that increases learning and thinking.
Creating Horseshoe Groups For Discussion
Professor Donald Bligh talks about using horseshoe groups in his book What’s The Use Of Lectures, first published in 1971. The horseshoe group is a useful method to alternate formal instruction with audience discussion.
A horseshoe group is a merging of two buzz groups. It usually has between four and twelve participants. The optimum size for a horseshoe group is six people. Groups larger than six should divide into two smaller groups for discussions.
Remember, the larger the group, the shorter the time each person will have to talk or discuss. You want to give each person adequate time to contribute to the group as well as articulate their thoughts.
According to education researcher Jane Abercrombie, discussion groups are arranged so that each member may interact face-to-face with every other member. With horseshoe groups, people sit in a horseshoe arrangement around a table. Chairs are arranged in a C or U shape with the opening facing either the center or the front of the room.
The opening at each table allows for focus to move from small group discussion back to the presenter and vice versa. The opening also allows the presenter to easily join each group to listen and provide feedback as needed. If the presenter does join a group, he or she should crouch or sit in a chair at the opening. The presenter should always try to be at eye level with the group’s members. Standing above them can kill discussion and represents authority or exclusivity. Subconsciously, the group may think, “Oh, the presenter is here now. He/She will have the answers. Time to be quiet. We don’t have to think or discuss anymore.”
Why Use Horseshoe Groups?
Alternating a formal lecture or presentation with horseshoe groups gives the audience time to digest, think, reflect and process the information they just heard. It also gives individuals an opportunity for feedback from their peers regarding their thinking.
Horseshoe groups promote analytical thinking, creativity, evaluation, assessment and application of the information to specific challenges or situations. Presenters should intentionally and carefully consider what questions to ask to cultivate thinking in a specific direction. The more the participants can talk about the practical application of the information, the more likely they are to consider using it in their work.
How can you use horseshoe groups for your next conference? What are some ways to encourage people to participate in small group discussions?