Calls to abandon the lecture

Should higher education abandon the lecture?

Prominent proponents of active and student-centric learning at University have called upon university leadership to act to ban the lecture.

The argument is that we now know that there are better teaching and learning approaches, and that it is ethically indefensible to continue to educate drawing on the more traditional lecture based model.

There is indeed convincing research that supports the claim that active learning in a student-centric environment can increase pass rates and help mid-range students to achieve better academic results. This conclusion is drawn based on research that demonstrates that there is a statistically significant improvement in the grades of that segment of the student cohort in large class settings. 

However, the situation is a very complex one. It has not been demonstrated that the reported improvements are achievable when students are exposed to a completely student centred active curriculum. There are several arguments which can be advanced to support a belief that current approaches are not scalable. 

1. Current improvements were achieved through strategies of engagement and incentive/motivation which resulted in students investing a disproportionately large portion of their study time and energy on the innovative student-centric course.

If this were true then the implication is that student performance increases observed in the active learning studies in the research literature might have been achieved at the cost of student learning performance in other courses taken in parallel.

2. University campus infrastructure is not provisioned in a manner that makes high quality large-scale deployment of student-centric active learning approaches feasible. Scheduling and learning management software and process are not designed to accommodate the needs of a fully active learning curriculum.

Teaching spaces, classrooms and traditional lecture theatres are largely configured in ways that would require significant investment to re-purpose for a more student-centric approach.

3. A more student-centric and active learning approach often also implies changes to assessment procedures to more completely examine the course content and outcomes. The effects of this in terms of increased student activity and workload are not well explored. There are also impacts on the  demands made on student's time associated with continuous assessment schemes and obligatory attendance associated with certain aspects of popular models for student-centric active learning such as inverted classroom.

Some initial work on these issues has been done by myself and some colleagues recently, and we hope that this will help to initiate a more nuanced dialogue about the trade offs associated with shifts towards active and student-centric educational practice in Tertiary Education.

You can read the paper here.

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