Over the coming weeks, DigiKnow will be looking at how to engage students through active learning. This will help you build up a Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. There will be extra blog posts over the next three weeks: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Today, we look at passive lectures and why they are not always the best option. And, why there’s value in engaging students.

Before we move on, last week we looked at how to improve recorded audio using Audacity. The blog post demonstrated some basic editing techniques.

The university experience

If, like me, you have been to university, we have all sat through passive lectures. How was it for you? Did you learn loads? Were you engaged and motivated? Did you want to be there?

When I was going through university, passive lectures were the mainstay of teaching. It was a one-way conveyance of knowledge. It might well have been lecturers deemed students were empty vessels that required filling with knowledge.

Can you remember anything from your days of lectures? I remember some of the lecturers I felt taught well and those I feel didn’t teach so well. Why is this? I can’t remember the content taught. However, some lecturers stood out because of their personality.

Passive lectures

Seemingly, passive lectures are not the most effective method of teaching beyond the fundamentals. Yes, lectures are great for teaching facts. Beyond that, lectures are not the best tool. With the internet, facts can be easily searched and accessed as these no longer need be memorized. 

To create critical thinkers and problem-solving learners, evidently students need more than facts. Passive lectures do have their place and should be used. However, the number of passive lectures should probably be reduced in favour of other methods. 

One study involved a group of students. Students were split randomly into two groups. Both groups were taught using the same content. One group received active teaching, the other passive. After teaching finished, students were given a questionnaire and a multiple-choice test.

From the questionnaire, students felt as though they learned more from lectures, And students may well have enjoyed the lectures. However, results from the multiple-choice test showed students achieved higher test scores when they received active-learning sessions.  

Results from other studies show undergraduate students in classes with passive lectures are one and half times more likely to fail compared to students receiving active teaching. 

The fundamentals

Realistically, passive lectures are not an effective teaching method. If higher order thinking, changing attitudes or solving problems is the aim, then passive lectures are not the correct tool.

If the aim is to innovate, to foster creativity and/or increase problem solving, then simple lecturing doesn’t cut it and more needs to be done. Passive lectures don’t promote group work and collaboration. They don’t encourage a community of learning. When it comes to higher order thinking and subject exploration beyond the classroom, these skills are not necessarily encouraged through passive lectures.

Saying that, I sat through a number of ‘passive lectures’ in college and university. I feel I have done OK in terms of education. When I think of my learning experiences, I was motivated, I did participate in study groups with other students. And, I did test my knowledge levels frequently.

When it came to practical skills, I practiced outside of class time. Also, I organised my notes for revision purposes. Really, I put the time in to my studies and I created my own active learning bubble.

The learning environment from my educational context is very different compared to today. Facilitators / lecturers / instructors should be giving students the best opportunities to succeed.

The best method of providing opportunity is to NOT use 100% passive lectures. Now is the time to consider teaching practices and how you can make teaching sessions more interactive, i.e., how you can engage students in learning and challenge students to do and achieve more.

Engaging students is valuable

What method of teaching is effective to encourage and improve student learning? Engagement.

By engaging students, you are calling students to action by having them partake in and complete activities. There is a need to promote and use activities during teaching sessions, either in-class or online. Are you already engaging students? If yes, that’s great. If no, think about how you can engage students.

Activities need to challenge students in their learning. These activities are opportunities where learners can discuss content. Students need to be able to manipulate content, work with it, understand and apply it.

Students are no longer passive vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Engaged students create knowledge and understanding through investigation, discovery, application and experimentation. By engaging students, you can foster a community of active learning. This will help increase student grades and retention.

The main reasons for using active learning in your teaching (in-class or online) include:

  • Higher grades. Studies have demonstrated active learning increases exam results.
  • Distractions and attention. By engaging learners in activities, students focus on their learning for longer. Learners do not have time to be distracted by the content on their mobile phones. In fact, use phones and devices to interact with content during class.
  • Also, mega cognitive skills and critical thinking skills are improved. Problem solving, thinking about how to think and analysis of content are promoted with active learning.

This post is an introduction to looking at how students can be engaged more during teaching and learning. Passive lectures do have their place but think about other teaching methods to complement and enhance teaching and learning.

We all learn and interpret the world differently. Different students need discussion, collaboration, activity based work, problems to solve and much more. These activities help students apply their knowledge and understanding.

Next time

On Wednesday, we look at summarising as part of the teachers toolkit for engagement. Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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