Lecture Method: Pros, Cons, and Teaching Alternatives

lecture methodThe lecture method is just one of several teaching methods, though in schools it’s usually considered the primary one. It isn’t surprising, either. The lecture method is convenient and usually makes the most sense, especially with larger classroom sizes. This is why lecturing is the standard for most college courses, when there can be several hundred students in the classroom at once; lecturing lets professors address the most people at once, in the most general manner, while still conveying the information that he or she feels is most important, according to the lesson plan.

There are just as many disadvantages to the lecture method as there are advantages, though. In this guide, we’ll learn the characteristics of the lecture method, both its pros and cons, and provide some practical alternatives for instructors who don’t think the method fits their teaching philosophy.

Learn some of the best teaching methods for a younger audience in this guide. Or, learn how to become a better teacher by understanding the goals of learning with this course.

What is the Lecture Method?

The word lecture comes from the Latin word lectus, from the 14th century, which translates roughly into “to read.” The term lecture, then, in Latin, means “that which is read.” It wasn’t until the 16th century that the word was used to describe oral instruction given by a teacher in front of an audience of learners.

Today, lecturing is a teaching method that involves, primarily, an oral presentation given by an instructor to a body of students. Many lectures are accompanied by some sort of visual aid, such as a slideshow, a word document, an image, or a film. Some teachers may even use a whiteboard or a chalkboard to emphasize important points in their lecture, but a lecture doesn’t require any of these things in order to qualify as a lecture. As long as there is an authoritative figure (in any given context) at the front of a room, delivering a speech to a crowd of listeners, this is a lecture.

Now, you might feel that this method sounds pretty one-sided. If you think so, you’d be one of the many people who believe the lecture method is a poor way of teaching. Before we get into the cons, though, let’s explore why the lecture method has been used for as long as it has, and what value educators have found in its ways.

Advantages of the Lecture Method

The lecture method has a few advantages that has kept it as the standard approach to teaching for so long. Below is a list, followed by some descriptions of each of these.

  • Teacher control: Because the lecture is delivered by one authoritative figure – a teacher, professor, or instructor of some other kind – that person has full reign of the direction of the lesson and the tone of the classroom. They alone are able to shape the course, and so lectures remain highly consistent when it comes to what kind of information is delivered, and how it’s delivered.
  • New material: Lectures are literally just long-winded explanations of information, deemed important by the lecturer. As such, students can absorb large quantities of new material.
  • Effortless: The lecture method makes the learning process mostly effortless on the part of the students, who need only pay attention during the lecture and take notes where they see fit. Because so little input is required from students, it’s the most clear, straightforward, and uncomplicated way to expose students to large quantities of information – as explained above – and in a way that is controlled and time sensitive. Students just need to know how to take good notes – check out this course on note taking skills for some tips.

Disadvantages of the Lecture Method

What’s funny about the lecture method is many of the pros listed above could actually be seen as cons, as well. Many don’t see the nature of the lecture method as helpful in the least, and you’ll find the explanations as to why listed below.

  • One-way: People who are against the lecture method see it as a one-way street. Professors dictate information to students, who have little to no opportunity to provide their own personal input, or protest the information being delivered. What if the professor is wrong, or what if the student disagrees with the professor on a fundamental ideology in their lecture? Well, the student just has to sit down and take it; sometimes, the student will even be forced to agree with the lecture if they want a passing grade. If the lecture is on a sensitive topic, over which there is much conflicting discourse, you can imagine the problems this might cause.
  • Passive: Not only do people see the lecture method as a biased, one-way road, but they also see it as a wholly passive experience for students. This isn’t just harmful because of the ways we described above. Not being actively engaged in a discussion over certain material can make the material itself seem worthless to a student. After all, the point of an education isn’t to be programmed to think a certain way, according to your instructor’s lectures, but to critically analyze the information being provided and learn how to apply it in different contexts. If a student has no place to opportunity the course material with the person delivering the lecture, they will receive only a shallow understanding of the subject being discussed. Simply put, they might even be bored by the material because they will have no opportunity to learn how the subject applies to them on a personal level.
  • Strong speaker expectations: The lecture method can be disadvantageous to the professor, as well. Not all academics can be expected to have the same level of public speaking skill. What if a teacher is a genius in his or her field, knows the material from every angle, and is enthusiastic about the subject… but has trouble speaking in front of large groups? The quality of a professor’s course should not suffer because they are unable to prepare a decent lecture. Just as being lectured to might not be the learning method of choice for many students, being the one that is expected to do the lecturing might not be the best way for every instructor to present their course material. But because the range of academic teaching methods are so limited, they are usually expected to do exactly that, potentially losing the elements of their lesson plan that makes it so strong. Check out this course on mastering public speaking for some tips on avoiding this pitfall.

Alternatives to the Lecture Method

Despite the complications that come with the lecture method, there are ways to make its pros and its cons work to your advantage. See the list below.

  • Discussions: Many colleges require students attend a supplementary discussion or lab section in addition to the mandatory lectures. This is a way for students to interact with other students from their class, on a much more personal level. Discussions are scaled down in size to aid this. For instance, a lecture might have 300 students, but a discussion section will have just 10 or 20. Discussions are led by a teacher’s assistant, who is there to get a discussion of the lecture going, and give students the opportunity to engage with the material and ask questions.
  • Seminars: A seminar is a much smaller, more focused version of a lecture. They differ from lectures not only in size, but also because they are usually followed by a question and answer session at the end, allowing students to participate and engage with the course material so that the academic takeaway is more in their favor.

If you’re struggling with making the lecture method work for you, you might benefit from this course on public speaking. You can also find additional public speaking training in this course.