When Lectures Don’t Work, What Does?

Posted by Paradigm Learning on July 18, 2014

When Lecture's Don't Work, What Does?

Training & Development Magazine recently published an article, “Revisiting the Lecture”. In this article, author James J. Goldsmith suggests that lectures can be a viable delivery option, continuing to dominate as a teaching method in academia. Goldsmith claims that a well-designed and facilitated session is a great way to accomplish cognitive change at the higher levels. The article recommends using lectures for subject matter experts to discuss certain techniques or report on new knowledge in their fields. I agree that there are times when a lecture can accomplish information transfer.

But even in academia, that model is changing. A new study finds students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, active learning methods. To challenge the evidence, Scott Freeman, biologist at the University of Washington, analyzed 225 interactive methods. The results concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams.

Brains just aren’t made to be talked to. So it’s not surprising that brains go elsewhere during a lecture. Talking, no matter how animated or passionate, doesn’t provide enough stimulation for our brains to work…and so they don’t. And if our brains don’t work, we don’t learn. Period.

Organizations today, facing increased competition from all areas of the globe, need educated managers and employees who can:

  • Solve problems
  • Work in teams
  • Understand complex issues
  • Deal with fast-paced change
  • Learn new skills quickly and effectively

This means that training organizations need to provide learning opportunities that effectively address these issues in ways that produce high retention rates, resulting in bottom-line results as employees take their new skills back to their jobs.

Over the past two decades, the use of discovery learning techniques has increased substantially as learning professionals around the globe have searched for better ways to ensure results.

Discovery learning is a methodology that actively involves participants in the learning process, leading to accelerated learning, higher knowledge retention and motivated learners who can successfully transfer what they’ve learned in a classroom setting to their jobs. When they are well designed, discovery learning educational sessions are highly experiential and interactive. They use stories, games, simulations, visual maps and other techniques to grab attention, build interest and lead learners on a journey of discovery toward new thinking, actions and behaviors.

The discovery learning approach incorporates three key elements:

  • Problem Solving. The learning design must guide and motivate learners to participate in problem solving as they pull together information and generalize knowledge.
  • Learner Management. Learning must be learner-driven so that participants, working alone or in small teams, can learn in their own ways and at their own pace.
  • Integrating and Connecting. Learning must encourage the integration of new knowledge into the learner’s existing knowledge base and clearly connect to the real world.

Discovery learning works because it ensures that learners’ brains are engaged in the learning. The learning environment promotes strong involvement – participants may be manipulating pieces on a game board, working with other learners to make a decision, or pulling together seemingly disconnected pieces of information from a variety of sources to solve a problem. Because it engages brainpower, discovery learning accelerates the learning process and results in higher levels of retention than lectures do.

A great example is seen with Ameristar Casinos. This story shows how discovery learning helped Ameristar tackle organizational change while providing employees immediate ways to apply learning on the job.

While lectures can have their place, high-involvement discovery learning approaches can make a huge difference with learning groups – whether they are in corporations or academia.

Please share your thoughts about lectures or about the alternative methodology of discovery learning.

Topics: Experiential Learning, Employee Engagement