Lecture: A medieval word which comes from the Latin for “a reading”. Monks would read a precious manuscript aloud so everyone else could copy it down. A transfer of knowledge “at scale” using the best technology at the time.
Is listening to lectures an effective way to learn in school?
Not according to several studies – and common sense! Here’s one particular study from a few years ago:
To weigh the evidence, Freeman and a group of colleagues analyzed 225 studies of undergraduate STEM teaching methods. The meta-analysis, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation. “The change in the failure rates is whopping,” Freeman says. And the exam improvement—about 6%—could, for example, “bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B.”
“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”
There are great examples of better pedagogy (teaching methods) out there – here’s one described by Sal Kahn.
“Many college courses in the humanities focus on discussion over lecture. Students read course material ahead of time and have a discussion in class.
Harvard Business School took this to the extreme by pioneering case-based learning more than a hundred years ago, and many business schools have since followed suit. There are no lectures there, not even in subjects like accounting or finance.
Students read a ten-to twenty-page description of a particular company’s or person’s circumstance—called a “case”—on their own time and then participate in a discussion/debate in class (where attendance is mandatory). Professors are there to facilitate the discussion, not to dominate it.
I can tell you from personal experience that despite there being eighty students in the room, you cannot zone out. Your brain is actively processing what your peers are saying while you try to come to your own conclusions so that you can contribute during the entire eighty-minute session.
The time goes by faster than you want it to; students are more engaged than in any traditional classroom I’ve ever been a part of. Most importantly, the ideas that you and your peers collectively generate stick.
To this day, comments and ways of thinking about a problem that my peers shared with me (or that I shared during class) nearly ten years ago come back to me as I try to help manage the growth and opportunities surrounding the Khan Academy.”
― Salman Khan,