What Lectures Actually Achieve

Reggie Watts - PopTech 2010 - Camden, Maine

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.

Why Lectures?

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:

  1. Receive and gain information.
  2. Think about the information and apply it.
  3. Have a change in attitude.
  4. 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?

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  1. Kevin Priger says:

    GaMPI’s Dir of Communications, Annie Mullins, shared a link to your blog post because she really appreciated the topic.

    Curiously, I recently posted a discussion starter on GaMPI’s LinkedIn group (which is open for all to view) on what is essentially the same topic. Here’s a link to the discussion. http://lnkd.in/79cTsD
    The article that caught my eye was in Discovery Magazine recently. Science does support everything you’re saying! Thanks for sharing the info.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing the link to the discussion. The research about the effectiveness of lectures has been around for a long time. It’s just now starting to make inroads into the public and meetings and events.

  2. Kevin Priger says:

    The topic seems to be everywhere these days. I sure appreciate your insights, Jeff. (Dave’s too)

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