Harvard Professor calls Lecture Outdated and Largely Ineffective

Reading Dennis Pierce's excellent article in eCampus News on Harvard professor Eric Mazur's discussion that lecture is an outdated and largely ineffective way for students to learn. It seems like every day we read about or hear someone discuss the inefficiency of lecture as a tool for learning. So the question remains, why do so many educators keep up the practice? One possibility is that many people tend to teach the way they were taught and so the system propagates itself. If that's the case, then we need to break the cycle, and so, once again, we call for a paradigm shift in the way we prepare students to learn.

The article goes on to say "educators need to transfer information... but students also need to do something with this information to make it stick—not simply parrot it back during a test, but actually assimilate it and take ownership of it, so they can apply this knowledge in a different context. If students can’t do that, he said, then they haven’t really learned anything."

So the first key seems to be the transfer of information/concepts from teacher to student. Clearly lecture is the least successful method of doing this with most brain-based learning research putting it at 5-10% retention-hardly worth the time. Integrating the arts is a perfect way of accomplishing this-getting the students involved artistically or kinesthetically is a much more effective method. In addition it engages and energizes students because it is active and circular instead of linear. It is an exchange of ideas and not a one-way path from the teacher to the students.

The second key seems to be the assimilation and ownership of the material which can be accomplished by the students rehearsing with the material in order to make meaning out of it. Brain-based research is clear-that learning needs to be meaningful in order for students to really learn it. Gone are the days-if they were ever really there-where students will accept comments like this will "come in handy later in life" or they'll need it to "get into college". Those are just not enough. And shouldn't we be making clear to students exactly why they are learning something at the outset of the lesson or allowing them to reflect and communicate the meaning of the lesson for themselves.

Thanks to ASCD for the link on Twitter.


Very true,very true I like it.As a student myself I can confess that I rarely learn from lectures. Most of us just blindly take notes and half way through the course or at the end you realize oh boy! I have not learnt anything really,I cannot put it in my own words yet I attend all the lectures.

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