Kill the lecture

Warning: controversial proposition

I want to rethink how we talk about face to face learning at Macquarie.

For years research has been telling us that the lecture, sage-on-the-stage is out, guide-on-the-side is in. Designed by Freepik

There’s many a scholarly article addressing the effectiveness of lectures. We are always asking how to increase student engagement, how to address falling lecture attendance?

I don’t have the answer but I want to ask, why are we still talking about lectures? Why are we still timetabling lectures? If they don’t work, why are we still thinking in terms of the lecture? Let’s scrap the term! Let’s not use it anymore!

When I say lecture, what comes to mind?
If you said something other than powerpoint, lecture theatre, talking, rows of students, well done. My point is that ‘lecture’ is synonymous with a type of passive learning. By still referring to lectures, we are effectively (perhaps subliminally) supporting lectures as an effective strategy despite the evidence.


I don’t have a term for it yet. Mitch has poo-poohed Learning Time but I’m not letting the lack of a term stop me from trying to spread the idea.

If you didn’t have to have a lecture (or even a tutorial) but were able to decide the most effective format, what would you do?  You have x amount of contact hours to use in any way you see as the best fit for your unit….  What would you do?  What would you need that you don’t have now?

8 thoughts on “Kill the lecture”

  1. Lectures are still valuable in my opinion. Yes many students don’t attend, but those who are motivated do attend. It gives the students an open forum. They can question their lecturer in real time. Students shouldn’t be made to wait a week to ask questions in tutorials and then their tutors need to go back to the lecturers to answer that question so immediately there is a delay of at least two weeks. And video blogs? The students do not listen to them. If they can’t be bothered coming to lectures do you honestly think they will listen to video blogs? This is simply ridiculous.

  2. The research is not so definitive as this – there is a wealth of cognitive research showing that a) direct instruction promotes efficient learning, b) development of basic knowledge underpins higher order activities, and c) this is more engaging for some students and less for others.

    Lectures are not sufficient, but they can be an important part of the mix.

    I think in a forum like this we need to be cautious that the research is accurately represented.

  3. Thanks for the responses Caro and Penny. The intention of this post is for some blue sky, what if you could completely rethink, thinking about face to face time.

    Some (disjointed) thoughts:

    Penny is, of course, correct that we need to be evidence-based here. My reading of the literature is traditional lectures – large group, long (50 minutes or more) and didactic – are of very limited value in higher education. This, of course, doesn’t mean that some face-to-face time cannot be used for direct instruction. After all, you cannot critique X, apply X or proposal an alternative to X unless you understand X. So, a session might well start with a (basically didactic) explanation of X followed by some small group activities. In an ideal world, the explanation could probably occur ahead of the face-to-face to allow more time for active small group work during our face-to-face times. But as Caro notes we cannot be sure students will come prepared; e.g. having watched the videos.

    With all that said, my concern is still that the term “lecture” carries a particular connotation of teaching style.

  4. Nice provocative post Rebecca, and some nice responses Penny and Caro.

    My general position on lectures hasn’t change in the last few years:

    But live-streaming adds an extra dimension and we know it has been very well received by students. What does it mean for engagement and learning? Not sure yet, but we will be conducting a large scale project to find out over the next few years.

  5. “If you didn’t have to have a lecture (or even a tutorial) but were able to decide the most effective format, what would you do?”

    I’d give a lecture. In my mind it is very effective, if done well – made interactive, exciting, engaging. I think the problem is that in many cases, it is delivered as a speech. It’s not necessarily the format that’s at fault, it’s the delivery.

    1. Great to hear your thoughts. I agree! No matter the format, any learning strategy that is interactive, exciting, engaging is the most effective.

  6. I do agree with Anon that “it’s not necessarily the format that’s at fault, it’s the delivery.”
    Isn’t lecture a very broad term that can range from “all talk and chalk” to “interactive lectures”?
    An interactive lecture delivery can, for example, be delivered through the famous PPP (presentation, practice, and produce). The presentation part may indeed be prepared and made accessible to students in advance and prior to the face-to-face lecture. The practice and produce (hands-on activities) may then fill the actual face-to-face time.
    Does this connote the current concept of “flipped classrooms”?

    1. I agree with you Mehdi that it’s the delivery, not the format. Some assume the traditional method of delivery, without consideration of cognitive load, an opportunity to digest or reflect on key concepts delivered, is the way a lecture should run. I would also say that whether flipped or not, any form of passive content falls into my provocation. Pre-questioning, post-questioning, establishing linkage, applying to a bigger picture or scenario will provide the opportunity for a deeper level of learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.