Lecture-based learning in college is nothing new to students nor teachers, but in a time of learning disabilities and differences, is this truly the best approach to teaching our future leaders?
In a school with professors set in their traditional lecture-based teaching ways, students like Pietra Depianti claim that this form of teaching is taking a toll on her grades, along with her ability to learn information and apply it. Depianti stresses her need for engagement in the classroom and feels as though during lectures the new information doesn’t seem to stick.
“Instead of sitting in a smaller class of twenty students, you’re sitting in a class of forty students. You don’t have the time to be able to ask the teacher a question and have them explain it to you in a way that you understand,” said Depianti.
Thomas Bennett, a Franklin Pierce University professor, believes it is important to find the best way to have students learn because the goal is to become smarter and more knowledgeable in their field of study. Bennett explains that as educators they should question what they are doing and see if it is truly the best way to do it and then try something different.
“I think too often in our education system when we do the passive learning that we do of lecture-based learning, people will learn what they need to know for that test and then forget it,” said Bennett. “I think the best methods of learning are experimental.”
My fifty-minute Media Studies class consists of the professor reading off slides of a PowerPoint with no responses or interactions from any of the students. One day as I was scribbling down my notes, I took a moment and looked around the room to see that I was the only one taking notes. The rest of my peers were on their laptops either playing games, watching TV, or just doing homework for other classes. No one was interested and no one was engaged.
In a 2017 article Saying Goodbye to Lectures in Medical School - Paradigm Shift or Passing Fad? by Richard M. Schwartzstein, M.D. and David H. Roberts, M.D., it is said that these lectures with heavy content PowerPoint slides may be confusing the students with what the educators are teaching and what the students are learning. Just because you have presented a piece of information to the class, doesn’t mean the student has learned it.
“The cognitive load theory suggests that our brains are limited in the amount of information they can process at a time; sixty slides in forty-five minutes may seem like an efficient way to teach, but it is unlikely to be an effective way to learn,” said Schwartzstein and Roberts.
Engagement. This is key for students to learn and maintain the information. Depianti describes herself as a hands-on learner and explains how she needs to interact, do group work, and be challenged and pressed with questions that make her think. Schwartzstein and Roberts reveal that questions should be asked in a way that requires students to apply the newly learned information so that it solidifies their memory and compels them to view the information from a new perspective and apply it to the context of the given lesson.
Bennett explains how discussions and group work during class can be extremely beneficial for reinforcing information and helping shy students feel that they have a voice. He says that being part of a discussion with various perspectives and questions can help students learn faster since starting different conversations renews the attention span.
Aside from all the negatives of lecture-based learning, it’s important that we look at the positives. Many teachers still use this teaching approach because for some it truly does work. According to a teaching guide from Baylor University, there are quite a few pros to lecture-based learning. For one, lectures can efficiently distribute foundational knowledge. When teachers use lectures, it helps the students learn new terms, facts, and simple concepts. Another bright side of lectures is that they can make students feel more comfortable. Students sometimes have an initial resistance to “active” learning or may have anxiety, so lectures give the students peace of mind in the sense that they won’t be put on the spot. Also, according to the teaching guide, lectures provide control and consistency. Due to the fact that the speaker controls the content and pace, it can be considered an advantage when important information needs to be delivered. Lastly, lectures can demonstrate academic skills, methods, and dispositions. “Lecturing can be a way to model attitudes and behaviors the instructor values, such as careful weighing of evidence, presentation of argument and counter-argument, and demonstration of how the subject has personal meaning.”
The fact is that it is a two-way street. Educators need to make the students excited to learn and ask questions to engage them, and the students need to reflect on that. With the struggles Depianti expressed, we can solve them by trying a flipped classroom approach where the lectures become more interactive. The students learn the information outside of class from given recourses and class time is spent focusing on the discussion, questions, and application of newly learned content. Bennett mentioned how some professors here do use this approach, but it doesn’t work if the effort from the student isn’t there.