The lecture is NOT dead.

Jim Morrison gravesite, Paris, France

The lecture is not dead. Jim Morrison, well…is? Standing at Jim Morrison’s gravesite in Paris, France.

With the surge of online education businesses popping up, I keep reading articles that students don’t learn anymore from listening to classroom lectures and sitting there taking notes; that the classroom lecture is ‘dead’. Well, of course students’ don’t learn from lectures if they take poor notes, are constantly distracted by texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, and even more importantly, never repeatedly reviewing their notes after the class has finished. I don’t know about you, but I actually DID learn from lectures, as long as I took notes and took the time to review them and repeatedly test myself in order to get the information into my long term memory (this concept isn’t rocket science). I also don’t remember having note-taking and organization tools like the ones that are available today, such as ‘One Note’ and  ‘Evernote’. The only kind of ‘note’ I had was the lined piece of paper in front of me. Now, there’s even pens that record the lecture simultaneously while the student is writing down their notes! The only ‘audio’ coming out of my pen back in college was the annoying clicking sound as I repeatedly pressed down on that button ‘thing’ at the top of the pen. If students have the tools and have learned note-taking skills, then learning from a lecture is about 50% taken care of. Plus, tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t learning a two-way street?

So, I don’t buy into this ‘lecture is dead’ theory and that a student doesn’t learn from them. It’s just a lazy ‘blame shift’ that puts all the responsibility on the professor and frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. Argumentum ad populum; “but Phil, if everyone is saying lectures are dead, then it must be true, right?” Umm…Bullsh*t.

Lectures are important, and if done properly, will take care of the other 50% of the lecture learning equation, and still prove to be a great delivery method for students. I like to compare the class lecture to live music vs. video. You can watch a live show of your favourite band/artist on a video, and most likely, it will be pretty good. However, go to the live concert, and it is most likely to be great; there’s no comparison between the two. Deliver a great ‘live’ lecture and then see how many students agree with the ‘experts’ and think the lecture is dead. My guess is not too many. In fact, there was a recent study from the Canadian research firm, Higher Education Strategy Associates that students actually ‘prefer’ being in class watching, as Joseph Berger says in an interview in ‘The Epoch Times’, “a smart person in front of the classroom” deliver a lecture. Combine a ‘smart’ and ‘skilled’ professor, and you’ve got a potentially great lecture. HESA also has an interesting report you may want to check out at See page 13 of the report that is specific to this finding.

So, here you go, just a few of my tips on how to make your lecture come ‘alive’:

  • Make sure they know what they are about to hear is relevant and tell them the benefits of knowing the information that you are about to present. Also make sure they know how it will impact them in their careers.
  • Use the ‘Queen’ formula (yes, the rock band). I once heard lead singer, Freddie Mercury, say in an interview that the band’s formula for a concert was broken down into 3 phases. ‘Blind and deafen’ the audience at the start, bring it down in the middle and finally, leave the audience wanting more.  So, in Higher Ed speak, get their attention right away with strong statements, props, or visuals, get them ‘thinking’ in the middle, and finally, finish off by giving them such great content and ideas that they want to hear more.
  • Don’t forget we only have 2 hemispheres in our brain (at least when I checked), so don’t overwhelm it with more than 2 key thoughts at one time. This is an idea told by Dr. Richard Restak who is a Clinical Professor of Neurology and author of over 20 books about the brain, including a great one called, ‘Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot’. Don’t overwhelm your students with too much information. One main concept/idea for each hemisphere; two is perfect, three is too many.
  • Move around the room. Get out from behind the podium and interact; ’work the room’. Just don’t try to stand on a desk and leap into the crowd; the students won’t catch you.
  • Organize the ‘lecture’ into 10 minute ‘chunks’ to keep students’ attention. Check out this quick audio clip on Dr. John Medina’s ‘Brain rules’ site,
  • If your lecture is more than 20 minutes, give students a quick 3-minute ‘brain break’ to get up and stretch, and to shift their brain gears by talking to their classmates about something else. There have been studies suggesting that this small exercise break will trigger the release of a protein that enables the communication between neurons called, ‘Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor’ or BDNF, for short.  As well, studies have shown that BDNF actually decreases after about 20-25 minutes of sitting. If you want to learn more about BDNF, there is a great podcast called ‘The Brain Science podcast’ by Dr. Ginger Campbell where she interviews Dr. John Ratey and he talks about BDNF (BSP #33 – to save you time, scroll to 19:28). You can also take a tip from the ‘TED talks’ video series. Do you notice how the talks rarely surpass 20 minutes? If they can deliver great talks in that time frame, so can we.

Do you think the class lecture is dead? Is Jim Morrison really dead? Hmmm.

Share this article


  1. Malcolm MacNeil says:

    This is a very interesting conversation in support of the lecture. I do like your references to the brain-based learning. I bought Dr. John Medina’s ‘Brain rules’ book this spring and have read materials on Dr. John Ratey’s website as well. I find your comments timely as we head into a new semester. At the end of August, I attended a couple of seminars encouraging teaching in the classroom using ‘Cooperative learning’ as a key element of success for the student social interaction. But, I just read an article this morning about Glen Murray, the province of Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, commenting that “Ontario is bracing for what the man in charge of higher education calls ‘the biggest overhaul since Bill Davis launched community colleges’…”, talking about moving lectures in classrooms to advancing more digital solutions of delivering course content to students.

    Personally, I try a variety of techniques in my teaching practices, but a solid well-planned lecture can be to me, very effective, and getting positive feedback from students is very satisfying, when you accomplish and make the connections.

  2. Malcolm, I think your teaching practices of trying a ‘variety’ of ways to teach content hits it on the nail. I think any prof with years of experience knows that a combination of teaching strategies works best. Thanks for sharing the link. ‘Brain rules’ is now on my Amazon buying list.