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Lectures Are Not an Effective Way to Teach

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May 7, 2018

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After a review of teaching methods in more than 2,000 classrooms, taught by more than 500 professors, at 25 different institutions, the jury’s in: Lecturing and other didactic teaching practices don’t really help students learn. In fact, they may make students more likely to fail compared to other teaching methods.

A decade ago, researchers began sitting in on university classrooms throughout the US and Canada. Institutions continue to teach via lectures and other didactic methods, in spite of “ample evidence… for the limited impact of these practices…” The team, which eventually grew to nearly 30 people, taped the lectures and analyzed the videos. The researchers found more than half of the classes observed had limited student engagement, with the exception of “sporadic questions” posed by and to them. The team concluded, in a recent report published in Science, that didactic practices like lecturing and PowerPoint presentations, simply weren’t that effective.

Especially when compared to other teaching methods. At Nautilus, Brian Gallagher cites a 2014 meta-analysis that found benefits to having students engage in more active learning methods, like group work. Active learning, the team behind the 2014 study concluded, improved student exam scores by 6% — while “students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.”

It’s worth noting that the Science study focused on undergraduate STEM classes at universities. Teaching methods might vary between subject matter, and must vary to suit age groups.

“There is an enormous amount of work that has demonstrated that these (student-centered) strategies improve students’ learning and attitudes toward science,” said Marilyne Stains, lead author of the first study and an associate professor in the chemistry department at the University of Nebraska. “It’s not just that they understand it better, but they also appreciate science more. They’re not as scared of it, and they engage more easily with it. When you see that kind of effect, it makes you say, ‘Why are we still doing it the other way?’”

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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