Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education

Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds 166

Posted by samzenpus
from the stop-talking dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds

Comments Filter:
  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:34PM (#46983999)
    ...are 1.5 times harder than topics that can be easily turned in to fun activities and games. Voila!
    • The study covered STEM topics, which are typically considered the "harder" topics. Also, the article wasn't saying fun and games, it was saying that "interactive" methods were more effective. Methods such as "[C]alling on individuals or groups randomly, or having students clarify concepts to each other and reach a consensus on an issue."

      So basically doing continual daily checkups to make sure your students are grasping the material instead of an exam every few weeks will keep the teacher more in tune wit
    • When I was in high school anatomy class and we were learning all about the different cell types, our teacher associated them all with some kind of candy. Squamous cells became necco wafers. Fat cells were marshmallows. Striated muscles were Twizzlers. She even had us build models of DNA with different colored gum drops and tooth picks.

      About the only time we stopped having a food related lesson was when we were dissecting cats, which was its own special kind of active learning *shudder*
      • the lesson going over diabetes must have been both ironic, and hilarious :)

        • We got exercise too. I vividly recall trying to do jumping jacks until I nearly collapsed to simulate how the heart pumps, and shoving pool noodles accross the table with other students during the calcium uptake channel lesson for muscle contraction.
    • Study finds that uninterested teachers are more likely to both give only lectures and more likely to have students fail.

    • ... that it is easier to take cheap shots at research if you only read the slashdot summary rather than the actual publication.

      So to answer your concerns I tracked down the publication in PNAS: http://www.pnas.org/content/ea... [pnas.org]

      To quote from the article:

      The data we analyzed came from two types of studies: (i) randomized trials, where each student was randomly placed in a treatment; and (ii) quasirandom designs where students self-sorted into classes, blind to the treatment at the time of registering fo

      • Thanks for the work. You're correct, I was taking a cheap potshot on a blurb for an article I did not read. The "Voila!" was supposed to cue the audience that I was kidding around.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      ...are 1.5 times harder than topics that can be easily turned in to fun activities and games. Voila!

      No topic requires lectures. Books and recordings take care of passively absorbed - or, as this study shows, wasted - infodumps just fine. Lectures are simply a leftover from the time they weren't available.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Very likely a factor.

      Anecdotally, the YouTube channel I've learned the most from (in this case, history of weapons) consists almost entirely of a guy standing there lecturing, and occasionally waving around a prop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:36PM (#46984033)

    are more likely to fail. so let us design our college curriculum around the retards who drink a 32 ounce mt. dew before class and can't shut off their phone less they miss a tweet. that will punish the people who actually can pay attention and maybe even enjoy the lecture for being smart. the ultimate policy would be that if a frat boy is bored he's allowed to punch a nerd in the arm. that will teach those fucking nerds to pay attention!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      are more likely to fail. so let us design our college curriculum around the retards who drink a 32 ounce mt. dew before class and can't shut off their phone less they miss a tweet. that will punish the people who actually can pay attention and maybe even enjoy the lecture for being smart. the ultimate policy would be that if a frat boy is bored he's allowed to punch a nerd in the arm. that will teach those fucking nerds to pay attention!

      As a frat boy who has a CS degree I find this accurate. It's obviously why I picked CS because it had the highest frustration and nerd saturation. This resulted in more frustration but an easier time coping than any other major. Also that's not Mt. Dew it's Nati Lite! True story bro.

    • by Jerslan (1088525)
      As one of those "nerds" I still had issues with Lecture classes. My university combined Lecture with Recitation sections so that you could get a combo of learning styles (ie: Lecture MWF, Recitation TTh). Lecture's often put me to sleep, and when they didn't it was because the teacher would randomly go off on amusing tangents about the differing smells of white board markers or installing a new screen door the previous weekend. Recitation covered things like going over the homework and such, had smaller cla
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Heaven forbid there are teachers out there who think they haven't achieved perfection and still strive to improve their effectiveness at knowledge transfer. At the university level, students must work hard to learn complex material and instructors equally hard to present it in the most effective manner. There are many examples of excellent students who don't even need a teacher and excellent instructors who could teach a third grader astrophysics, but in general there's a lot of room for improvement from bo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, right? I mean, if you want kids to know something you just tell it to them and then if they don't know it it's their own damn fault. Really what are lecturers anyway but hacks who couldn't write their own books? Just put the textbook through a text-to-speach converter and play it for the lecture hall. Then you'll really separate out the bright kids (literally, the bright ones will just leave).

    • by v8xi (3650789)
      You lost me at "dumbasses who can't pay attention," because, if you find a topic boring, you must be a dumbass.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Shados (741919)

        If the moment something bores you, you can't deal with it, yes, you're a useless dumbass.

        Not everything in life is a party and you'll have to deal with it on a regular basis. May as well start in school.

  • Seminars are better because the audience is supposed to ask questions and are regarded as peers, whereas lectures are by those at a higher level to those at a lower level.

    Plus, cookies!

    • by aj50 (789101) on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:41PM (#46984077)

      ...but I liked lectures...

      Learning from someone who knows their subject much better than I do who has taken the time to condense a part of their knowledge into a well structured lecture is the thing I miss most when comparing university to work.

      • by Rhywden (1940872)

        That's nice and all, but you still have a hard-wired limit to your attention span.

        It's pretty much standard in teachers' education (at least in Germany) that you have to "switch gears" from time to time or you may as well rhapsodize about the colour blue - nobody will be really listening after a while.

        It doesn't mean that lectures don't work. It just means that only doing lectures is not as effective.

      • by khchung (462899)

        ...but I liked lectures...

        Learning from someone who knows their subject much better than I do who has taken the time to condense a part of their knowledge into a well structured lecture is the thing I miss most when comparing university to work.

        Agreed. This difference is almost like the difference between people who read, and those who don't.

        People who don't read will tell you how much more effective a movie can tell a story, blah, blah, compared to books. Books are boring. They can't stay focused on boring text. etc. etc.

        People who read find books interesting and enjoy good reading.

        If you do a study on the "effectiveness", by whatever measure, of books vs movie, the result will be skewed by those who don't read.

      • Allow me to introduce you to my latest invention: Television.

        With it we can electromagnetically record and reproduce the image and sound of a professor, freeing them to do more research or dedicate even more time to interacting with students.

        It will surely revolutionize the wor-- What? You've already got a tiny TV in your hand complete with Two Way Radio? My god man! You can even learn while dropping the duce!

    • by hutsell (1228828)

      Seminars are better because the audience is supposed to ask questions and are regarded as peers, whereas lectures are by those at a higher level to those at a lower level.

      Plus, cookies!

      Questions turn presentations into a living hell. Regardless of the quality of the speaker, improperly handling of the constant interruptions makes the event useless. Proper handling, which rarely happens, is a skill that will endear any audience. It's only because of the free cookies, that allows me to let it slide — I'll bite my tongue and think to myself: It's all good.

      • Questions turn presentations into a living hell. Regardless of the quality of the speaker, improperly handling of the constant interruptions makes the event useless. Proper handling, which rarely happens, is a skill that will endear any audience. It's only because of the free cookies, that allows me to let it slide — I'll bite my tongue and think to myself: It's all good.

        This is why questions are at the end or at a designated point, so that they don't throw things off gear.

        Mmmmm cookies.

    • by SirSlud (67381)

      Ugh. The only thing worse than lectures are questions from the audience. Well, actually, I have no problems with questions per se, but anybody who interrupts with a question that is going to be answered within the hour as part of the material, or asks a question that was already answered should be subject to some kind of punishment.

      • It was always the "i'm going to ask questions to make myself appear engaged and intelligent" crowd who drew my ire in school. (they typically would strike with the inane questions right as the prof was about to wrap up for the day, possibly when letting class out early)

      • I cannot tell you how much I thank questions. All of them, even the dumbest.

        I do try to be very clear and dynamic, but some topics... are just hard to grasp, or I have not found the proper way to teach them... But in some subjects, most students won't even realize they are not getting what I teach. There are a few students who are burnt with questions, and cannot stand on a point they don't understand. Some students insist on their questions even if they are sometimes just too easy.

        I thank them. And I try t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:42PM (#46984089)

    Prior to 1980, but after the 40's, education had gone the more "interactive" direction. But due to a disparity between educational performance between boys and girls, They switched to more lecture based teaching. The thought was that boys with their more dominant personalities interacted more while the girls "wallflowered" the labs and interactive portions of education. The NEA, feminists and other groups drove the Education dept to change teaching standards to make it more fair for Girls. The end product is yes, more girls in college (61% to 39%) but also a significantly lower percentage of boys in college, and higher dropout rates in certain areas due to a lack of interest. Also, since that point there has been a greatly increased "ADD" and "ADHD" diagnosis rate, since they boys are now expected to sit and listen for hours. This applies to all grade levels through soph/Jr college level ages.

    People knew this before but political correctness drove the wrong diagnosis, damaged the ability for boys to get an education for over 30 years and has led to a decline in education for that same period. Instead of finding the right solution (one possibility, Segregation by gender and difference teaching methods) the NEA and cohorts hamstrung 1/2 the US population, and probably that policy was followed in other nations too.

    Girls can handle themselves now and are less likely to be "put in the corner" by dominant and more aggressive personalities. Lets bring back more interactive education at ALL levels and give boys a chance again. And quick diagnosing bored boys as ADD because you havent been educated on how to teach anything but a docile girl class. Oh, and bring back punishments for bad behavior and let teachers control their classrooms.

    • As the father of a daughter who's been diagnosed ADHD, I'm inclined to take your entire post with a very small Siberian salt mine.

      • by SirSlud (67381)

        Ah, your one data point throws off his entire asinine argument! (Seriously, the OP is a moron, but I can't find anywhere in his drivel that he stated only boys can have ADHD.)

  • Sherberts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madsenj37 (612413) on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:44PM (#46984101)
    My accounting teacher at UCSC would give us Sherberts, like you would have orange sherbert between a mulitple course meal to cleanse your palette. It was an unrelated quick discussion multiple times in a class and it worked well.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Studies show homework is ineffective, too. If the trend continues, education won't be deemed useful -- only learning while on the job will be deemed useful. Couple this with the fact that nobody wants to hire "green" people and the ecosystem of learning failure is complete.

    Sounds to me like this is begging for something like "free structured internships". You don't pay money for school, but your employer doesn't pay you for your work. As long as there's some oversight ensuring interns aren't stuck with grun

    • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:04PM (#46984299) Journal
      Because we all know that the one single purpose of an education is to train you for a job in the capitalist hell of the labour market. Critical thinking, political activism, creativity, and cultural development and experimentation are all excluded in the Educate Me For A Job model. Of course, the defunding of universities in the USA has caused their costs to go vertical - benefiting the vectoral class of financial extraction via student loans, precluding people from becoming activists, because if they get busted or booted they're stuck with a jillion dollar debt and no degree. Of course, the money for schools has been poured into prisons and warfare, where, again, it benefits the rich, and not much else. So, yeah, get a degree. Get a job. Be a useless debt slave cog in the machine.
  • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Monday May 12, 2014 @05:53PM (#46984203)
    Teachers are.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Teachers are.

      That's one inconvenient truth. The other is its complement:

      students are boring, too.

      Just like teachers, not all of them, but those that are in class because they have to, not because they want to. And just as it takes an extraordinary student to activate a boring teacher, it takes an extraordinary teacher to activate a boring student. And here's the kicker - extraordinaries are rare, on both sides. Borings are far, far more common. Besides, with current level of teacher pay, passionate teachers are slowly g

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I remember I used to spend lecture time doing three things:
        1) writing notes on things I did not know
        2) considering alternative views against what the professor was saying
        3) searching and preparing awesome questions for the professor

        #3 is by far what motivated me and kept me attentive. If my question was "good" enough, I could get a great response from the professor by tapping into their specific knowledge and experience. Indeed, I could actually shift the course of class discussion if I was strategic about

  • by Dr_Ish (639005) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:06PM (#46984333) Homepage
    Although this study is good for grabbing headlines, the analysis seems a little bit shallow. For one thing, the focus is on STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering) disciplines, As someone who teaches at the college level in both a STEM field and a traditional humanities field, I am well aware that different areas require different methods. For instance, if one is teaching the basics of computational cognitive modeling, then some interactive segments are necessary. However, things work entriely differently if one is teaching, for instance, the history of the philosophy of mind. Another issue I have with the study is (as best I can tell -- I cannot access the original paper) that they do not control for lecturer effectiveness. To put it simply, we all know that some people are better at lecturing than others. That being said, even when teaching say, Cartesian Dualism, there are steps that can be taken to make lecture classes better. For instance, it is widely known that most humans have an attention span of between 10 to 20 minutes. So, it is simple enough to give everyone a break every twelve minutes, or so and tell a story, or some historical anecdote. Similarly, the Socratic approach, asking for input from students throughout the class and then encouraging discussion, can also make lectures much more effective and enjoyable. These are some of the things I do. That being said, I have known people who just drone on in a monotone, in lecture classes. Folks such as that can be utterly tedious. My point here is that unless the effectiveness of the teachers is taken into account, this study cannot be trusted.
    • by namgge (777284)

      it is widely known that most humans have an attention span of between 10 to 20 minutes

      It may be widely believed, but it's not true for people studying a topic that interests them. In this case their attention span is limited by hunger and/or bladder-capacity.

      The oft-quoted 10 minute attention span is applicable to paying attention to material that doesn't interest the subject.

  • someone had told my Dad that.

  • by GlobalEcho (26240) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:20PM (#46984475)

    One reason lectures are so popular is that they are far, far easier for the instructor. Putting together a useful interactive activity is much harder than simply planning what to say. Even incorporating someone else's pre-designed activity is difficult to synchronize with one's own lesson plan. At the grade school level, I believe there is considerable room for improvement through teachers learning how to share and use activity plans.

    At the college and graduate school level, it gets much harder on the professor as potential sources of planned activities thin out and specialization increases. Increasing interactivity demands much more time of these professors since most such improvements will have to be custom-designed for the class. Given the social structure of university compensation (research counts, teaching doesn't), I find it hard to see interactivity at the college or grad school level increasing very quickly.

    That said, college and grad school courses are perhaps more interactive than they are given credit for. They often meet just a few times a week, reducing the boring lecture hours, and assign a lot of homework, increasing interactivity in a way that fails to appear in the studies cited.

    For context, I am an adjunct professor (at the graduate school level). Based on this daily of studies I try to include some interactivity but it's really hard, so that mainly degenerates into a few intra-class status quizzes. My classes tend to meet for 2.5-3 hours per week, and have 5-20 hours of homework on top of that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, as much as college students SAY they want more activities and less lecture, a large percentage of them grumble and resist any and all activities. Only through dogged persistence can a class (and only if it is small) get used to learning through activities. Once that happens, then their learning really blossoms. But getting them to that point is not easy. I have had students roll their eyes and flat out refuse to briefly discuss a topic with the person sitting next to them - much less engage in a truly

      • by GlobalEcho (26240)

        Interestingnow that I reflect on it, my experiences are similar.

        Perhaps it is because humans dislike change?


    • One reason lectures are so popular is that they are far, far easier for the instructor.


      Apparently, students are easy to fool, because my experience shows that it's easier to fill time with class discussion and "interactive lessons" than a full hour of lecture. Students find multiple choice lecture questions fun, and generally prefer it to lecture, but you have to cover a certain amount of content regardless, and you have a moral responsibility to train students not to have the attention span of a flea.
  • by MoFoQ (584566)

    I think it depends on a number of factors such as the one giving the lecture, the material covered by the lecture, the environment in which the lecture is given, and the one receiving the lecture.

    I've had classes in the past that...well...the room was just not that comfortable to listen to a lecture (it was a 3hr class in a slightly overcrowded/warm room in the evening and it was a boring biology class; insta-sleep time).

    I've also had classes where the lecturers (this particular class had 3 different profes

  • by bi$hop (878253) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:23PM (#46984517)

    One of my calculus professors told us on the first day of class that note-taking was forbidden during his lectures. He argued that, in our quest to write down everything he said, we would inevitably miss important points or misunderstand key concepts. I was skeptical at first, but I soon discovered that he was absolutely right. I was able to absorb much more than I thought by listening intently to what he said, and fully focusing on what he drew on the board. In short, his lectures were effective and valuable.

    I never took notes in any other class after that, and my grades never suffered from it. In most classes, the lecture materials were made available for later download anyway! Moreover, the freedom to simply pay attention actually made lectures more enjoyable.
     

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Dictation is the problem. I figured out that I only needed to write down teh occasional key points or formulae to get the most out of lecture time.

    • I went the opposite route of never taking notes to taking meticulous notes. But I found in my upper level courses that my brain simply could not keep up with the material at hand. It was instead most important that I had the notes to refer back to for doing the homework, which was where I would actually figure out the material. Trusting only to my brain capabilities during that hour, I never would have parsed it into anything comprehensible. I would also go back and create a comprehensive table of conte

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A few years back, between research jobs, I did some time as a community college instructor. And preparing good lectures is hard. It's difficult to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a good lecture unless you've had to do it.

    I used to like lectures: the old professor all covered in chalk had a great aesthetic appeal. But then I saw how much work it was.

    And the thing is that the same lectures are being given all over the world. There I was - giving a bunch of introductory biology lectures. But a bun

  • Junk Science (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:44PM (#46984747) Homepage

    Unless you can have a controlled study where both groups take the same exams and have the same labs/assignments the "result" is meaningless.

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      Unless you can have a controlled study where both groups take the same exams and have the same labs/assignments the "result" is meaningless.

      You also have to rely on the sample students being exactly the same. And I mean, exactly. Some people study best with a TV set droning in the background. The lady next to my desk has a radio going. What works for some people doesn't work for others.

      Maybe the scientific findings will be that not all people will be the same? That'll be worthwhile research.

    • If you read the article in PNAS ( http://www.pnas.org/content/ea... [pnas.org] ) you can see that they consider the question of examination equivalence by only looking at previous studies that "were largely or solely limited to changes in the conduct of the regularly scheduled class or recitation sessions;" So based on what I have read in the paper I would classify this as very far from junk science.
  • My most memorable classes were not lectures. The purpose of textbooks and assigned reading was to transfer the fundamental information. Homework from the textbook gave you an opportunity to gauge whether or not you were actually learning the material and your ability to apply the processes described by the text. Classrooms were a place to first have a pop quiz (a great way to really gauge if you have retained and/or truly comprehend what you have been learning), then to discuss the reading assignment (So

  • by Hussman32 (751772) on Monday May 12, 2014 @06:55PM (#46984843)
    I've attended hundreds of hours of classes, and I've taught graduate courses in engineering. If your lecture has an introduction, preferably with a motivational topic, followed by an outline, a thorough discussion that includes examples for each concept, and then a summary, your students will learn more than if they did not show up and just read the notes.

    Of course you need to engage them, ask them questions (I find ways to get them to contribute by offering homework points (capped) for interaction), but that's part of preparing a good lecture. I think most of the lectures that are criticized are those prepared by teachers that would rather do something else.
  • Prior Art (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eulernet (1132389) on Monday May 12, 2014 @07:20PM (#46985039)

    In 230BC, Xun Zi wrote:

    "What I hear, I forget. What I say, I remember. What I do, I understand."

    or:

    "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand."

    Nothing changed !

  • Learning is a two way street. Putting everything onto the lectures is counterproductive to say the least. Nowadays, we have students holding unrealistic expectations that course material could be and should be completely understandable by simply going to the lectures, with minimal, if at all, work afterwards. Putting so called activities into the lecture serves the most obvious function, to slow it down. This should become quite clear when we compare what we are teaching with what was taught in the 70s.

    Seri

  • I chuckle at the title, Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds

    Just ask all those Mathematicians and Physicists considering lectures are the only form of classroom instruction as it involves breakdown of problems/past experiences from previous works. And considering a lot of the innovations use today originated from these guys says a lot.

    Lectures are just a tool in the arsenal, it could be a poor performing teacher as well (one more interested in his research or tenure), putting f

  • There's a big-huge-enormous difference between teaching "students" something because they want to graduate and teaching Students something because they care to know.

    I'd bet dollars to donuts that lectures are a fantastic method of exchanging information (i.e. teaching) between two persons (i.e. professor and student) who are passionate about the subject-matter. That used to be why people went to university. It isn't anymore. But it one-day will be again.

  • Valuable as this research may be, it is hardly breaking new ground. Students have complained about unengaging teachers ever since teaching classes was introduced. I don't think this means that the lecture form is suddenly wrong as a means for delivering - it just means that teachers, as always, should learn how to deliver good lectures, and students should learn how to get the best out of a lecture.

    A good lecture is one that explains or highlights the things that are not covered well in the text book; it sh

  • by cain (14472) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:24AM (#46989189) Journal

    Learning to pay attention, take notes, and recall oral information is a skill to be learned and mastered just as much as the content of the lecture.

The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, "I've got responsibilities."

Working...