There are too many of you reading this article without reading the article that lays out what the evidence says about lecturing as a learning event. I would strongly recommend taking a few minutes to read the evidence article before reading the consequences article.
The evidence clearly shows that lecturing for learning is clearly one of the worst ways that we can teach. So, what are the consequences of teaching by lecturing?
The primary impact is on the students. From the evidence, we know that almost no learning goals are actually reached – unless getting them to pass some form of non-thinking, convergent assessment is a learning goal. We know that it is virtually impossible to teach higher order thinking skills through lectures. I once knew a teacher who taught writing skills by reading out her PowerPoint slides day after day.
Metacognition, critical thinking, reasoning, rational thinking, hypothetico–deductive reasoning, complex inductive reasoning, creativity; any of the higher order thinking skills that higher education is supposed to teach cannot be learned in a lecture.
Content is delivered by the terabyte in lectures. Inconsequential trivia is shoveled by the truckload as vital information that a graduate must memorize in order to receive a degree. Less than 10% of this trivia is accessible a year after a class ends, and yet we expend, literally billions of dollars a year pouring information into our undergraduates' brains only to have it pour out the other end as fast as it goes in. Can someone explain to me why the amount of content we shovel is necessary?
Lectures teach students that learning is nothing more than memorizing information. Too many teachers also believe the same thing. Learning is so much more, but higher education degrees show that it is not. Information is what we teach, assess, and reward. I’ll tell you something and in a few weeks you regurgitate what I have said and I will give you a reward.
Lectures reinforce the out-dated notion that information is scarce. Students must gather together in order to hear an expert tell them what they need to know. Worse than that, most lecturers want the students to put their electronic devices down and listen to their lecture rather than use the most comprehensive collection of knowledge ever assembled as a part of their teaching. We live in an age of information abundance and yet we teach as though we still lived in an age of information scarcity. Our predecessors, by the (literally) hundreds of thousands would have done anything to live in an age of information ubiquity, and yet, we lecture. Sit down, Shut up, face the front, and listen!
We are the most ultra conservative force in our society. The first thing we do is reinforce the idea that good information comes from an authority (you). There are still teachers who tell their students not to access Wikipedia for information. Instead, they need to go to trusted, authoritative sources to find out anything. The authorities will tell you what you need to know.
As a support to the trusted source as the font of any good information, didactic lecturing with passive students clearly sends the message that authorized information is beyond discussion. Do not question information that comes from an authorized source – ever. It is a very small step for our graduates to move from a teacher being a trusted source for information to a favorite news outlet becoming a trusted source. In the age of information abundance, when we don’t teach our graduates to think, they will choose a trusted source that plays to their confirmation biases. Is it any wonder that our graduates appear uneducated.
Through our reinforcement regime of convergent assessments and extrinsically motivating grades leading to a qualification, we instill and reinforce the attitude that they bring with them from school, that authority must be obeyed. Education is the institution of conformity and conformity leads to obedience. With no positive examples of non-conformity and disobedience in our society and the high status given to education (conformity), higher education has become the principle institution declaring OBEY AUTHORITY!
The cost of lecturing to our society is enormous. What brilliance, creativity, discoveries, and thinking has been smothered in a regime dominated by lecturing. With over 90% of higher education teaching taking the form of lecturing (but my lectures are more than just lectures), the creativity and thinking that we desperately need to deal with the enormous problems of the day is gone. We have wasted our society's potential for succeeding with convergent essays and multiple choice tests, along with the “discuss this point with two or three others around you for a few minutes before we get back to my content delivery”. Is it any wonder that, although we have more "educated" people than at any other time in history, we are living in a world where we can't begin to address the overwhelming problems that beset us?
The main cost to you as a teacher is that you have to live with yourself knowing all of this and do nothing about it. Almost all of us can change, and the change isn’t that hard - anyone teaching a class of fewer than 100 can easily do it. The Science of Learning tells us what we need to do, and yet few will do anything at all. We too have gone through the education system that insists that we conform and obey, and we conform and obey. We conform and obey with the loss of our integrity as the personal cost of our unwillingness to break the mold.
I have studied The Science of Learning for many years and after some experimentation with applying the main principles have developed a method of teaching that simply works. I total, it takes me no longer to teach a class of 70 using The Science of Learning than it did when I used to straight lecture (and I was very good at lecturing because I did much more than just lecture). It isn’t difficult and the students love it. One of my colleagues said to me one day, “The students do all the work, you love it, they love it, and you get all the glory!” He actually did say that to me.
I have heard teachers tell me that their institution's physical layout precludes them from adopting the methods of teaching that I have pioneered. This is nonsense. I have taught in unwieldy tiered lectured theaters - we adapt.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.