Lectures have limits when used for education.
Lectures are a great way to share information. However they are not as effective as discussions for getting learners to think, develop attitudes or change behaviors.
In politics lectures are called speeches. In faith institutions lectures are called sermons. In colleges and universities lectures are called teaching. Most conferences begin with a cornerstone lecture often called a general session keynote. At conferences and tradeshows, the lecture takes center stage more than discussion and meeting with people.
Whatever it’s called, the lecture is a continuous exposition by a speaker who wants the audience to learn something (Bligh, 2000). The very notion of a lecture implies a mental process of learning.
Speakers who use lectures typically have at least one of four learning objectives.
They want the listener to:
- Receive and gain information.
- Think about the information and apply it.
- Have a change in attitude.
- Make a change in actions and behaviors.
What Lectures Actually Achieve
The lecture is effective at transmitting information. However, it is not more effective than other methods of sharing information such as distributing and reading a report. It is as effective. (McKenzie, 1963; Dubin & Taveggia, 1968; Bligh, 2000).
Would people be willing to pay and attend a conference if every session just distributed a report to read? Of course not. Yet, according to scientific research, distributing a report is as effective as the lecture.
If the goal of the lecture is for people to remember the information, the lecture will fail. Why? Lectures are ineffective for promoting learning. They are the equivalent of reading information online. Just because you read it, or heard it in the case of the lecture, does not mean that you learned it. Just because you heard it does not mean you will recall it and ultimately, will apply it. All you did was hear information.
Changing a listener’s attitudes, actions or behaviors should never be the goal of a lecture. Why? In order for someone to change their attitudes or behaviors, they must think about the information. The information must go through a formal process in the brain from short-term to working to long-term memory in order for it to be learned. The listener must be given time to think about the information and process how to apply it. The lecture goes against thinking.
The very premise of a lecture is flawed for most of our situations today. It presents the perception that an expert who knows gives knowledge to listeners who do not know. The listeners therefore have nothing worth contributing.
However, in today’s society, most of us believe that the audience often has just as much to contribute as the expert.
Ultimately, lectures are effective for sharing information. Yet they are ineffective for learning.
Why are so many people willing to pay and attend the basic lecture when the ROI of learning is non-existent? What will it take to get conference organizers to shift from the traditional lecture to more effective methods of learning?