Encouraging Active Learning in Lectures

Kate Exley


The passivity of students in lectures and large group teaching sessions has long been observed and criticised. In response some have argued for the abolition of this form of teaching. However, expansion in Higher Education, increases in student numbers and a desire to maintain face to face contact does seem to be a little at odds with this view. In fact, it seems that, for the foreseeable future, the lecture will remain a cornerstone of the tertiary education experience and many students will continue to spend considerable amounts of time sitting amongst, perhaps hundreds of, their classmates in a tiered lecture theatre, as an important part of their studies.  The view expressed in this article is that most of the good things about lectures can be extended and expanded upon and most of the bad things can be reduced or erased by getting the students to play a more active and interactive role in the larger group teaching sessions they attend. Although this sounds a very simple idea the practice usually turns out to be a little more difficult to achieve. In particular, a simple thing such as introducing a quiz, or a discussion task, into a lecture actually challenges both learners' and lecturers' attitudes alike on three important questions:

  • What are lectures for?
  • What should good teachers do?
  • What should good learners be doing?

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