Why lectures should be outlawed

This is my bold Uni assignment, which highlights difficulties in embracing non traditional teaching practice within the University system. What do you think?

Researchers have highlighted the benefits of active learning strategies, for many years. To what degree, do teachers of adults in Higher Education utilize active learning as a teaching strategy? Part of the answer to this question, lies in the remaining structure and culture of Universities as a whole. For active learning to be embraced, the ‘instructional’ culture, which remains in Higher Education as a primary learning foundation, needs to change dramatically.

While most teachers may know that active learning is good practice, they often don’t choose to embrace it. For this to happen, the systemic culture behind University teaching strategies need to be challenged. The systemic structure of courses should change before true experiential learning will take place (Kolb, 1981).

On reading the quote, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” you would be forgiven for thinking it was written in modern times. In fact, these were the words of wisdom by Confucius at around 450BC (Gentry 1990, 9). While Confucius probably based this philosophy from his own experience, since then, researchers have advocated for active, experiential and constructivist learning strategies, as essential components for learning. These learning theories have been researched and tested, and are ready to be embraced by educators across all learning institutions.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

An example of a well researched and developed strategy for effective learning, is the experiential learning theory model, which was developed by Kolb (1981,235).  Kolb recognised the important role that experience plays in the learning process. In his book, Learning styles and disciplinary differences, he describes how the pressures of social and university requirements produce a particular culture in students. To counteract this culture, his model of Experiential Learning Theory, was developed to give teachers guidance in effective learning strategies. These strategies align to studies and research on how adults learn best and are recommended for teachers to deliver effective and engaging androgogy, which focuses on student development.

Nowadays, most Higher Education teachers are aware of the experiential learning model, but prefer instructional approaches because they are more comfortable and safe, this being the expected culture for many years in Universities.  Active, student centred approaches can be seen as shifting the political power in the classroom or in online learning.  This requires a completely different teaching skill set; working to empower and motivate, rather than a reliance on content expertise.  This may challenge the constructed identity of some teachers, so they resist fiercely, fueling the culture of the power imbalance in learning institutions.

Universities promote a culture where students look up to teachers as the person with the ‘power and knowledge’. Grant (1997, 105) in her journal, describes students as being inadvertently disciplined into compliance, in order to be accepted as a ‘good‘ student. Grant believes that both the student and the teacher contribute to this phenomenon.  These apparent power imbalances contribute to a learning culture where students strive to learn what the teacher tells them to be true. With this culture in mind, much change is required before action learning will take place in adult learning institutions.

One of those required changes, centres on the systemic structure of Universities across the world. For example, if  ‘telling’ doesn’t equal ‘learning’, why do Universities persist in using ‘lectures’ as a form of delivery? The very use of the word ‘lecture’ conjures up ‘passive’ or ‘forced’ learning. The Oxford dictionary definition of the word ‘lecture’ highlights why the structure of University course delivery unbalances the power between teachers and students, putting opportunities for students to question and critique at risk

Noun: 1. an educational talk to an audience, especially one of students in a university or 2. a long serious speech, especially one given as a scolding or reprimand

Verb: 1. [no object] deliver an educational lecture or lecturesor2. [with object] talk seriously or reprovingly to (someone)

In her journal article, Shakarian (1995) makes the point that “lecture, by its very nature, creates a predominantly passive learning experience where students generally are exposed to information, yet rarely are given the opportunity to process it.” Shakarian also considers that the lecture style delivery of concepts generate a culture of dependence and a failure for students to think critically or to develop original thinking skills. For learning to be an active and personal experience, lecture style delivery should be replaced with a pedagogy based on a learning theory, which allows teachers to develop an experiential culture.

By comparison, Avruch (2002, 5) writes that culture is developed through an individuals experience. It is learned or passed on to them by people around them. I would argue, however that cultures are also fuelled and cultivated by the overarching system which supports them. For example, for teachers to change the culture of ‘lecturing’, the University may be required to create more ‘flexible learning styled’ classrooms that embrace vigorous learning experiences for their student, in preference to lecture theatres. Similarly, the use of Learning Management Systems which are restrictive and prescribed are often limiting and instructional design for online learning frequently does not include facilitated action learning principals.

It is not that I disagree with Avruch (2002), but I believe that it is difficult for individuals to stop cultivating habits, when the structure around them supports and affirms their practice.The systemic culture, therefore, needs to change from ‘the top’ where the structure is built and the development of educators is driven in order for transformation to take place. A robust analysis of delivery and assessment methods and time structures would harvest a system where teachers would be prompted to change their methods of engaging students and embracing active learning principals.

Undoubtedly, some Higher Education teachers use and understand active learning principals very well and it would be presumptuous to say that all teachers need to change.  Generally speaking however, staff development for teachers should include a saturation of experiential and active learning strategies. Professional development for teachers needs to shift from teaching methods that are content focussed, to developing skills in ‘how’ learning can be delivered using active learning principals. This is in order for teachers to gain a thorough understanding and a capacity to apply their knowledge to practise with their students, both online and in the classroom.

Along side of the changes I have outlined, Grant (1997) explains that University lecturers have a responsibility to consider what it is they are trying to produce from their students. She believes that it is important to consider current assessment, course design and teaching practice so as not to create a competitive environment for students to learn in. To further support this comment, it is my opinion that universities should question the rationale behind the use of assessment tools which test knowledge and memory recall, such as tests and exams.

To be more specific, I would go so far as to say that the use of surface testing and assessment tools drive superficial learning. If students are expected to ‘remember content’ and not to question, analyse or apply their knowledge to concrete scenarios, what is the point of education? Do these assessment tools acknowledge the important role that experience plays in the learning process?

These questions are answered in a statement made by Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV), who claim that educators should provide a concrete and holistic, form of assessment for students which incorporates project work and portfolios and de-emphasises examination type assessment. CTGV claim that traditional examination style assessment does not determine the competence of students to apply their knowledge to everyday settings and adapt to new situations. Further to this, if assessment drives the active learning process, it becomes somewhat redundant unless educators embrace assessment and delivery holistically for effective learning to take place.

To summarise my argument, Universities across the world continue to use a structure that does not support active learning as preferred learning strategy either in the classroom or in online learning. The ineffective structures include the use of lectures to deliver content in an instructional way. The equivalent, online, can often be seen in lectures on video or audio.  It also includes the use of inadequate assessment methods as another strategy that limits active learning capacity. These systemic structures cultivate a learning philosophy which is largely instructional and contributes to the imbalance in power between students and teachers, thus restricting a questioning, active learning experience.


Avruch, K. (2002). Culture and Conflict Resolution. Washington: Insitute of Peace Press.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Pearson Education.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV). (1993c). Toward a theoretical framework for utilizing their potential. Journal of Special Education Technology , 12 (2), 76-89.

Gentry, J. W. (1990). Guide to Business Gaming and Experiential Learning. London: Nichols.

Grant, B. (1997). Disciplining students: The construction of student subjectivities. British Journal of Sociology of Education , 18 (1), 101-114.

Kolb, D. A. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. (J. Bass, Ed.) San Francisco: Chickerine & Associates.

Oxford Dictionaries. (2010 йил April). (Press, Oxford University) Retrieved 2011 26-October from Oxford Dictionaries: http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lecture

Shakarian, D. C. (1995). Beyond Lecture: Active Learning Strategies That Work. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance , 66.


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Filed under Assessment, Learning strategies, Teaching and learning tips

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