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Getting away from the lecture

By Danny Harrington


In an excellent recent article for the BBC, Matt Pickles questions why lectures still even exist in so many university courses let alone dominate in a good proportion of those. It seems crazy in a world where more and more students are digitally literate and preparing for digitally-based, problem-solving work in small co-operative teams or as individuals, that they should have to endure the lecture format. It also makes no logical sense that as we move students away from passive, listening learning at early years into active and independent learning and thinking in secondary school that we should then take them back to that out-moded passive style at university.

Pickles explains why it happens succinctly and it basically boils down to universities and university lecturers having no incentive to change. The university can put lectures on the web for little cost and generate either revenue or exposure or both. The lecturer has their career development depending on research and research output not undergraduate teaching and has no motivation to spend ages re-thinking and re-purposing material for more effective teaching methods. It is the dirty little secret of higher education that undergraduates get in the way.

But as students get more control of their education – where to learn, when to learn, how to learn – they have the opportunity to make well-informed decisions on the type of course they enter so that they do get more effective teaching/learning experiences. Many students have been questioning the value they get from their courses in recent times, especially when they see through the thinly-veiled veneer of the lecture at how little is put in to it by the institution. They want to see their teachers working for them. They also often vote with their feet and actually stop going to these ineffective lessons. Pickles notes Harvard research showing only 43% lecture attendance by term end.

But not going to lectures is not an answer to the question how do I learn effectively without lectures? I’m a big believer in self-directed learning and using the experience to truly learn but this cannot take place in a vacuum. Every student needs guidance, even more so in a world crowded with textual output in cyberspace. You need effective teachers to guide you where to go to do your reading, how to analyse information in a logical and valid way, how to use information to address issues and problems and how to construct suggestions for solutions. The good teacher’s purpose is to take the learner through an experience of valid knowledge and skills acquisition to achieve truly effective learning.

So when you are looking at courses, don’t be seduced by the history and the statistics. You are not living a hundred years ago and you are not an average of ten thousand other students. You are you and you are now. Look for courses with proper classes, seminars, tutorials and such. These are interactive learning experiences. When you look online, look for live, real-time classes not video content. Do this and you will do well. And say good riddance to the lecture. It has had its day. Only by avoiding courses that are lecture-based can you force universities to drop them. So do your democratic bit for future learners.


ITS Education Asia runs a fully interactive,live class HND in Business online. This is the first two years of a degree and leads on to a university top-up year for a full bachelors degree such as a BBA.

Dulwich College Singapore

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