The video lecture below is from Rhona Sharpe (@rjsharpe), the Head of the Oxford Center and Learning Development and Deputy Director of the Directorate of Human Resources at Oxford Brooks University. It is taken from First Step into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (#fslt12) — a MOOC which took place last year.

“Lecturing is that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the note-book of the professor are transferred through the instrument of the fountain pen to the note-book of the student without passing through the mind of either.” — Harry Lloyd Miller (1927)

We lecture mainly because of tradition, according to Sharpe. In the past lectures took place because only the person in front of the room had the book. She acknowledges that traditional lectures has shortcomings such as:

  • Students take a passive role
  • Students find it difficult to speak up
  • Students are not necessarily prepared for out-of-class activity
  • Students might not take good notes
  • Students can get distracted

Here’s why she finds lectures might have a difficult place in the digital age: Students find traditional lectures useless because information, especially open educational resources (OER), are now easily available in the Internet at any time of the day. Sharpe advocates for digital information literacy for today’s learners. Furthermore, students can only maintain their attention for about 15 minutes in the beginning of a passive lecture. This attention can be regained but it does not last as long and does not rise as high. Lectures have been found to be as good as, but not more effective at delivering facts (Blighs, 1998). In order to have better recall, students have to summarize, paraphrase, make meaning of new information and integrate it to prior knowledge. This process is not possible during a traditional lecture.

Reasons why we should lecture (Fry, et al., 1999)

  • Share new knowledge not available in other formats
  • Demonstrate academic or professional skills – show framework of thinking
  • Introduce a new topic via an overview
  • Show how several aspects integrate or compare things
  • Show how to solve problems

In an effort to transition out of the traditional lecture format, Eric Mazur, also mentioned by Sharpe, a physicist from Harvard University, does NOT use class time for traditional lectures. He uses class time for active learning mainly via peer to peer instruction.

“I thought I was a good teacher until I discovered my students were just memorizing information rather than learning to understand the material…”
— Eric Mazur

He did this because he found that students memorized information from lectures but were not able to apply the information in problem solving cases. Consequently, he pioneered a peer-to-peer instructional environment during class time, where students had to study the lecture notes before class time and then come to class to discuss the material amongst themselves and the instructor. Through this method (peeargogy) Mazur found pre-med students improved on their scores, long term memory retention, and to be more engaged (Crouch C, Mazur E. Am J Phys 2001).


What is your approach and reasoning behind lecturing?

For further reading on evidence based presentation for medical educators follow Dr. Tyson Pillow (@TPillow12) and read his blog at Presentation Design for Medical Educators.

Image by Matt Brown
Javier Benitez, MD

Javier Benitez, MD

ALiEM Featured Contributor
Javier Benitez, MD


Medical doctor, tweets not medical advice or endorsements. Interested in #MedEd & technology. Always learning. I'm no expert. No financial conflict of interest.
Javier Benitez, MD