As technology advances and becomes more capable, there are many new teaching styles coming into play. There's a lot of 'new and improved' to be seen, but it's important to remember that sometimes, newer isn't always better.
The Natural Flow of Lecture-Based Teaching
The word 'lecture' has gotten a bad rap over the years, but in truth, a traditional lecture is still one of the most effective and natural ways of conveying information, and it has stood the test of time through all conceivable models of teaching, across generations, cultures, and ideologies.
We repeatedly turn to lectures because they work. When students settle into a lecture--not in a state of boredom or annoyance, but attentive listening and willingness to learn--the lecture model provides a steady flow of information that students can learn and grow from. By allowing themselves to become immersed in the words of their educators, students activate a powerful mental state that opens them up to retaining new ideas, contemplating the presented information, and expanding their own thinking processes.
The uninterrupted nature of lectures creates a momentum within the subject at hand. Providing students with the setting for a lecture, and then delivering it effectively, helps to prevent distractions from learning and generate the momentum necessary to really make a message stick.
A Tried and True Method
Lectures aren't a new concept. In fact, they are arguably one of our oldest modes of education. And even with technology sweeping the world and creating new opportunities, certain staples of human interaction will always have value.
While advancements are constantly being made in both devices and teaching styles, and while many of these new programs are incredibly beneficial to students and teachers, it's important not to discard traditional teaching methods simply because they are older. There are many benefits to teaching via lecture. For example:
- The model of having an expert discuss their field at length provides students with a solid foundation for their own learning
- A 2010 study from Harvard's Kennedy School showed that students who received lectures learned more than peers exposed to other methods of classroom teaching
- Establishing the professor as the expert not only allows tremendous information sharing, but also lets students know exactly who to turn to if they have trouble understanding the material.
Lectures are even cited as capitalizing on human nature to improve learning by providing verbal instruction from an authority figure in real-time. Lectures have proven time and again to be a positive and powerful teaching method, and succeed where other methods--like small-group discussion or independent study--fall short.
What Makes Lectures Powerful?
Lecturing, like all teaching methods, is an art and a science. One does not simply stand at a podium and ramble--that is not educating. A successful lecture is like a speech; it is structured, organized, clear, easy to follow, and provides actionable steps for the listener. A good lecture doesn't tell a student what to think of a subject, but instead guides them to examine the topic on their own, to come at it with their unique perspectives, and to discuss these concepts openly so that answers can be found and insights gained.
They also provide steps that the class can take after hearing the lecture to deepen their understanding, implement their new knowledge, and make what they learned part of their lives in a real, viable way.
How to Create Effective Lectures
The first element of an effective lecture is knowing who you're speaking to. A history lesson for third graders is going to be very different from a history lesson for third-year college students. Tailor your lecture specifically to the people you'll be speaking to. Keep in mind the key components of a lecture, and use these guidelines to establish flow:
Before the Lecture
- Start with an outline of key points you want to cover--try to keep it to five or fewer so you and your students don't lose focus or get lost in the lecture.
- Practice a solid intro and conclusion to effectively introduce, and then wrap up, the main elements of the lecture. You want to be sure you have the flow, energy, and confidence to present a great lecture.
- Look for creative, engaging, or even entertaining (depending on your personal style) ways to emphasize important information. Keeping things fun and light can mean better participation and retention from students, as they'll genuinely enjoy the class.
While You're Presenting
- Share your outline with students beforehand so they can follow along.
- Do your best to speak naturally, rather than reading verbatim from notes. Make eye contact and speak more conversationally--it's more effective than just reciting a script.
- Adjust your speaking speed to fit the material (complex or simple?) and mood of the class (are they taking lots of notes, or listening?); clear, slower speech is most easily absorbed.
- Engage students by asking questions, allowing moments where they can contribute their personal knowledge or experiences, and pause at certain moments to allow information to really sink in.
- Incorporate other teaching styles into your lecture; have visual aids, audio or video clips, or even physical props to support your point.
Check the Stanford guidelines for even more tips and tricks to make a powerful and effective lecture.
Be open to feedback, and if you're really looking to improve, try recording yourself and listening to it later to see what areas you could improve. And keep in mind that this is a skill that you can improve and expand on. Listen to great speakers and teachers. Watch a few of the best TEDTalks, and study what makes them so captivating. Write down ideas as inspiration strikes you, and check those notes when it's time to create your lectures (things like Evernote or Google Drive make it easy to save notes on the go and access them from any device later).
In short, learn to enjoy the art of crafting a beautiful lecture, and give the passion you have for teaching to creating presentations your students will love.
Keeping Lectures Alive
Whether it's a lecture in a packed classroom or a video lecture viewed on a smartphone from another country, students benefit greatly from well-prepared lectures given by passionate teachers. No matter what other resources are provided--articles, forums, shared notes, studies, or documentaries--there will always be value in receiving a lecture from a teacher who you can later interact with, ask follow-up questions of, or simply discuss the lecture material with.
Modern students may benefit greatly from the educational advancements coming from the digital age, but nothing will ever replace the effectiveness of a passionate teacher delivering a powerful lecture.