Five Ways To Combine Conference Lectures With More Effective Education

Marije Vogelzang - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME

In principle, there are many education methods that could replace conference lectures.

The research is loud and clear that the majority of these education methods are more effective than the conference lecture.

Yet, the conference lecture dominates the most conference education. Yes, the lecture has a place. Unfortunately, conference organizers give it too much prominence. To paraphrase Professor Donald Bligh, the heavy reliance placed upon conference lectures and its frequent use as an all-purpose method are unjustified in the light of the evidence of what it can actually achieve—transfer of information.

Replace Or Combine The Lecture With Effective Evidenced Based Education Methods

The traditional 20-, 30-, 45-, 60- or 90-minute lecture is inadequate if attitude, behavior or skill change is the goal. If the traditional conference lecture is not replaced, it should at least be combined with other, more effective methods in some way. Here are five ways to combine traditional lectures with more effective learning opportunities.

1. Try Mental Aerobics

Feedback is critical for learning to occur. What if you never received scores on a test or your grade on a term paper? You would never know where you needed to improve. You need feedback in order to learn.

Yet an uninterrupted lecture does not provide time for the audience to receive feedback to know if they truly understand the topic. Unless the presenter stops talking and permits some form of peer learning, learning opportunities are lost. Weaver and Cottrell (1985) are credited with first creating mental aerobics to increase learning. During the lecture, listeners are asked to take half a sheet of paper and write their reactions to the lecture. The lecturer stops talking 20-30 minutes and asks the audience to share with a peer their reactions. This technique encourages feedback, expression, involvement, criticism, insight and higher levels of thinking. Then repeat this process after the next 20-30 minutes of the lecture.

2. Rehearse To Aid Memory

Broadbent (1970) found that if a listener repeats or remembers information within 30-minutes of initially hearing it in a lecture, it helps consolidate the learning. A lecture without pauses, interruption or dedicated times when the speaker stops talking does not allow the listener to repeat or rehearse the information. Rehearsal means that the participant says the subject matter to their self, talks about it with a peer, writes a reflection about the content or collaborates with others on how to apply the information.

3. ReVision The Information

We’ve all heard speakers say, “You don’t need to take notes. You can have the slides after the presentation.” Sure you can get the slides from the speaker but if knowledge retention, application and learning are your goals, then you should take notes in a lecture. Taking notes and them immediately reading them or sharing them with others is one way to stop the decay of memory. It is more effective than “vision” of the information for the first time as you write it down in your notes. Why is ReVision more effective? It practices retrieval and the activation of specific neural pathways which were created when you first visioned the information. McQueen, Meschino, Pike and Poelstra (1994) have demonstrated this point in weekly lectures numerous times.

4. Create Short Buzz Discussions

It is the responsibility of the speaker to provide opportunity for the audience to practice using the information they’ve heard. One easy way to do this is create short buzz discussions between neighbors on issues raised and the speaker’s questions. Education researchers Bassey (1968) and Jones (1923) demonstrated the importance of rehearsing and discussing the content during the lecture to increase retention and application.

5. Give It A Rest

Multiple education researchers have proven that dividing the lecture into smaller segments with short breaks increases attention and retention. The breaks can provide one- to two-minutes of silence to allow attendees to read, recall and reflect on the information. When lecturers stop talking and provide opportunities for the brain to rest during their presentation, the learning increases. McLeish (1968) and Lloyd (1968) each found that there is a learning gain as a result of rest during a lecture. A three-minute buzz discussion also has the same effect. Medina (2008) illustrated that our attention span is ten-minutes and lectures should be divided into ten-minute segments. Consider ten-minutes of a lecture followed by a one- to two-minute break of silence with direction to read, recall, reflect or even discuss.

References To Five Ways To Combine Conference Lectures With More Effective Education

What are some other ways you’ve seen of combining the traditional lecture with an effective education method? When is the lecture the appropriate method to use?

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  1. Martin Gauto says:

    Interesting and useful! I will take some of them very much into account from now on. Thank you.
    I also would like to recommend to keep on repeating the main concepts, on a regular bases (every 8 – 10 minutes?) incorporating the new key ones as they are mentioned/ discussed along the lecture.
    Or –if I were to summarize the whole concept- to have the lecturer moving from a lecturer’s mind set/ atitude to a professor’s one.

  2. […] Research is loud and clear that the traditional lecture does not lead to learning. Combining the lecture with one of these methods increases learning.  […]

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