One of the most striking quotes that came out of this year’s Professional Colleges and Universities Summit came from Frank Mulgrew, the President of the Online Education Institute at Post University.  During his presentation on the next generation of online learning environments, Mulgrew stated that “the lecture does not work” at professional colleges and universities.

Though we often take lectures for granted, it’s important to remember how commonplace they are in higher ed, to recognize the implications of Mulgrew’s bold statement.  If lectures “do not work,” then every day, thousands of professors in lecture halls across the country are ineffectively educating their students.  With that in mind, how did Mulgrew come to this thought-provoking conclusion?

He began by explaining the difference between passive and active learning.  Face-to-face lectures are considered passive because the learner simply sits and listens to the instructor without actively participating in the learning and teaching process. Mulgrew went on to argue that the part of our brain used to receive information in lectures – and to retrieve that information later – is weaker than the part of our brain that participates in more active learning.  Examples of active learning include group discussions or experienced-based learning that allows students to take ownership of their education and actively participate in the classroom.

I have to agree with Mulgrew that active forms of learning are incredibly beneficial to students – especially those at professional and career colleges. Since these learners often pursue programs that are geared towards a specific career path, it is critical that they learn practical skills and information that they can quickly transfer to the workplace.  In other words, simply listening to a lecture about a technical skill would probably be less effective than a more hands-on learning experience.

But even still, is the lecture really as ineffective as Mulgrew discussed in his presentation?

What do you think? Is the face-to-face lecture “dead” at professional colleges and universities? If so, what teaching methods and technologies will replace them in the future? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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  • Dustin Sanchez

    the lecture does not work? this is news? all of college is broke…period

  • Mary Anne Hipp

    Because of the diverse learning styles of students in the typical college classroom, there is some value to pure lecture, but more value to what I call “enhanced lecture.” I believe that lecture can be segmented to include on-going student participation. Informing a student in advance what outcomes are expected at the end of the lecture serves a multitude of purposes. Employing questions for response and topics for group discussion for example will bring value-added lecture. Creative instructors will design meaningful connectors that go beyond traditional note-taking—-or not-taking in some cases. Adding a real-world question/activity is a great hook for engaging the learner and providing scenarios that guide listening and critical thinking. This is an easy skill to teach to college students who quite possibly did not experience such events in their prior learning.

    I am a strong proponent of hands-on, engaged, active learning that includes teaching others what you know as a re-enforcer. Are college professors not including video clips, etc. to enhance lecture and to model improved lecture methodology? Then, it might be time to move on……….

  • notjack

    Lectures worked fine for me, though admittedly some worked better than others.

    A lecture is a performance, and a lecturer is as much of a performer as an actor or musician. A good performer can make the viewers/audience feel as if they are a part of the performance, so that — emotionally, at least — it becomes an “active” experience, not a purely passive one. A poor performance, on the other hand, may be worse than just “passive”… it can inspire the viewer (who is not just a “listener”) to actively ignore and forget the experience. As with a theater or musical performance, the effectiveness of a lecture depends on the effectiveness of the lecturer, not just in “presentation”, but in involving the audience in the performance.

    Also, a significant aspect of the best live performances is the emotional feedback — facial expressions and body language, if nothing else — that the performer gets from the audience. The performer can then subtly (or not so subtly) adjust his/her presentation to more effectively get the desired response from each particular audience. This feedback is missing in a broadcast or video. Even if the broadcast/recording is made with a live audience, its reactions may be different from those of remote viewers, resulting in an emotional disconnect which can turn a potentially active experience into a passive one.

    Perhaps the lecture as a medium is less effective for remote learning than for live attendance, but I’m sure that could also be said of various other techniques. A serious question is whether any online technique can induce the same emotional involvement as live attendance at a GOOD performance/lecture.