Innovative teaching methods vs the traditional university lecture

The changing face of the university lecture is a hot topic that has been discussed by students and lecturers alike for many years. With the rapid rise of the digital age and of innovation in teaching, where students are using smartphones, tablets and laptops as learning tools and there is a phenomenal wealth of information available online, is there still a place for the traditional lecture?

university lecture theatre

The traditional lecture may have ruled auditoriums for decades, but there are new styles of teaching coming through. These newer and more innovative teaching methods are moving away from the traditional model of lecturing and passive learning towards a greater focus on active learning, where students openly interact with one another and participate in the lecture. Many studies suggest that the collaborative way of learning in primary schools, where children sit around a table to work out a problem together, holds significant benefits for active learners but can become lost as the student progresses through their education. Ironically, as the student develops greater thinking skills and problem solving abilities, the teaching methods available to them can become more and more passive as time goes on, which leads to disengagement and frustration. Traditional didactic lectures limit the opportunities for student interaction, but recent attempts to provide greater student interactions in lectures have resulted in much higher satisfaction, higher thinking skills and enhanced motivation.

Another innovation is the use of educational video during lectures, which has transformed the engagement levels of students and has created a greatly enhanced learning experience. Through the use of video during lectures, students are more alert, motivated and focused on the topic in hand. There are recognised connections between visual content, memory knowledge and students’ ability to retain new information. Watching video coverage transports the student into the world of the topic under discussion, with expert interviews or demonstrations to bring the topic to life. Students also gain insights relating to skills needed for interviews and benefit from enhanced team working and communication skills. The growing use of videos during lectures is a key aspect of successful active learning.

While there are clearly significant benefits to innovative teaching methods, there is a need for caution too. In our fast-paced digital world where students have an extensive amount of visual information to hand throughout the day and night, in-depth knowledge of a topic and higher thinking skills could be at risk. The net generation is often prone to media multitasking, and as a result their attentional skills can be affected. For some students who are overwhelmed by the age of media multitasking, it seems that the traditional lecturing model of keeping it simple could be a welcome relief from the fast-paced, distracted digital age.

The traditional lecture represents the stereotypical image of an auditorium full of students all focused on one professor. Often the professor is the only active presence in the room whereas the students adopt a more passive stance, taking notes on the topic at hand. This traditional model has been heavily criticised over the years for failing to engage students and offering a one-size-fits-all approach, regardless of the learning styles or abilities in the room. Even the architecture of the lecture theatre promotes a passive way of learning as students peer down at one central figure on the stage without the potential for collaboration or interaction. But it’s important to consider the benefits of the traditional lecture, particularly as we move towards more innovative methods.

The traditional lecture can be extremely effective, if delivered by a lecturer that presents the subject with enthusiasm. Lecturers can cover their subject in a great deal of depth, which arguably could be lost when relying on faster-paced, innovative visual or digital techniques. Lectures certainly appeal to those who learn by listening, and a well-structured lecture can be organized to meet the needs of the particular audience. Lectures also offer clarification of complex problems or information and access to the lecturer’s personal overview of the material based on their extensive knowledge.

There’s no doubt that the face of modern lecturing is undergoing significant change, and with the net generation as the main audience it is vital that lecturing moves with the times and adopts more innovative techniques to keep students engaged and motivated. Many studies show that the use of video during lectures greatly assists with attendance, participation and retention of knowledge and information. It’s also clear that active learning, support from peers and collaboration are critical components of successful lecturing. But it’s also important to remember that the traditional method of lecturing offers students the opportunity to hear in-depth, quality information from an expert on the topic at hand with personal overviews that may well not be available online.

Combining the quality of information from traditional methods with active learning and the use of videos during lectures holds promise as a progressive model that will suit a wide range of learning abilities and will hold the attention of students from a fast-paced, digital generation.

BBC Active Video for Learning offers an extensive range of high quality educational videos covering a wide range of topics which are ideal resources to enhance your next lecture. There are licences available for each title, ensuring that you can show the videos in your lecture theatre or classroom. The videos are available in DVD format with digital licensing also available.