In a pedagogical quest for active learning, we’ve somehow cast lectures in the role of arch-villain.

I’ve had conversations with faculty about their teaching which have started out with: “I know lectures are bad, but…”

This is definitely the case of a pendulum swinging too far. While research definitely supports active learning as the optimal way for students to retain learning – applying new knowledge either to simulated or real scenarios – the initial learning has to come from somewhere, and lectures are one of these sources.

Because of our focus on improving small group learning/TBL sessions in our curriculum, I can seem to be anti-lecture. The truth is, I’m actually a closet lecture aficionado. I own DVDs and CDs from The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series and love CBC’s Ideas. And the proliferation of podcasts has fed my love of lectures even more, as podcasts are nothing if not fabulous lectures. And TED Talks, who hasn’t lost a few minutes to those? Really, the world loves a good lecture.

Lectures absolutely have a place in universities in general and in medical education specifically. While we can’t – and don’t want to – return to a curriculum with 100% (or near to it) lectures, we can keep great lectures in our menu of methodologies to provide students with optimal learning experiences.

If you’re planning a lecture, or looking to improve an existing one, here are some things to consider:

Why do you want to do a lecture?

It’s ok if it’s just your first instinct, but think beyond that. Is this the best way to convey your content? How will providing this content in a lecture format enhance students’ learning?

Are you comfortable with the mechanics?

Lecturing is a skill which improves with practice. There are certainly standard “do’s” and don’ts”. For example, Don’t read your own slides; don’t keep your nose down in notes. And the classic: Don’t be boring. If you aren’t comfortable, do you have a plan to improve?

How can you keep things fresh and interesting for an hour or more?

Research on attention habits tell us that after 20 minutes of sustained listening, it’s hard to stay focused. With this in mind, how can you pace you lecture to break things up? Consider things like polls (with our PollEverywhere account), short think-pair-share activities, or other creative ideas. At least one instructor I know shows short topic-related videos and has the class stand up to watch them to get everyone out of their standard sitting positions.

What’s your follow-up plan?

If you think of lectures as content delivery, what’s your plan for students to be able to apply this new knowledge? Does your lecture lead into an application session in your own course or in another one? If you’re not the instructor for the follow-up session, be sure to coordinate with the person who is.

As with all your teaching endeavours, you’re not on your own. Get in touch – I’m here to help!