Uses And Abuses Of The Common Lecture

Augmented Reality

Few people agree about what makes a good lecture.

It’s like asking about what is good art or great music. Our personal tastes are all over the map.

Some researchers have found that individuals want different and often conflicting things from a lecture. Since lectures will be evaluated and assessed at extremes of a rating scale, lecturers will do well if they please at least 50 percent of their audience.

What A Lecture Is And Isn’t Good For

So what’s the point? What are lectures good for and what are they bad at doing?

According to scientific research*:

1. The lecture is as effective as other methods for transmitting information.

For instance, lectures are as effective as distributing a report. That’s right, as effective as distributing a report! Remember, transmitting information does not mean it will be learned or retained. It’s just passing out information.

2. The lecture is ineffective for promoting thought.

Research shows that small group or peer discussion is more effective to promote thinking. Lectures put extreme pressure on your brain to either listen to what the lecturer is saying or think about the meaning of what your lecturer is saying. Your brain cannot divide its attention to both listening and thinking at the same time. If you start thinking about how to apply the information the lecturer is discussing, you stop listening and miss the next point.

3. The lecture is ineffective for inspiring interest in a subject.

After attending a lecture, we may feel motivated for a moment about a new subject. Those emotions peak within a matter of minutes. Rarely does the lecture lead to long-term interest in a specific topic.

4. The lecture is ineffective for changing attitudes and behaviors.

The lecture should not be used to try to change social behavior. Lecturers cannot change others’ attitudes and behaviors. If they could, we would have less people attending faith assemblies because we would have all changed our thoughts and actions already.

5. The lecture is ineffective for teaching values associated with a specific topic.

Changing someone’s values should not be the goal of a lecture. Only individuals can change their own values.

6. The lecture is effective for one-on-one personalized instruction but not group instruction.

If a person is talking one-on-one with another person, the listener has the ability to provide immediate feedback to the lecturer. The lecturer can change and adapt the speech for that listener.

* Bligh (1971, 2000), Donald A Bligh provides a comprehensive guide to the research about the uses and abuses of lectures in his book What’s The Use Of Lectures.

How can we tweak lectures to make them more meaningful and effective learning experiences? What are some successful methods to replace the standard lecture in the conference or workshop environment?

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