Lectures are one of many teaching practices that allow students to receive knowledge from experienced faculty. Some faculty go beyond simply delivering knowledge to modeling problem-solving through “thinking out loud.” Because the majority of lectures involve the use of powerpoint and other media, it’s important that faculty familiarize themselves with what cognitive psychology teaches us about how to exploit the strengths of these tools and avoid the common pitfalls.

Interactive Lectures

Educators have used the lecture format for literally hundreds of years to instruct learners and impart knowledge. Indeed, it is a highly efficient means of knowledge transfer as one person can lecture to large numbers of students, although certainly many other mechanisms of even more efficient means of knowledge transfer are now conveniently available. Lecture, especially in the typical version of unidirectional delivery with minimal to no opportunity for audience interaction, is limited in moving learners toward application. While the lecture format is not inherently ineffective, it has become less popular in the last twenty-five years as studies have demonstrated its limitations, and methods of information dissemination have exploded and technology has transformed our student’s perceptional processes. Students want to be involved in the learning process; they need to be given opportunities for active experimentation, abstract conceptualization, reflective observation, and concrete experience (Kolb, 1984).

Is the answer to do away with lectures? Not necessarily. Lectures do provide an opportunity for students to receive some understanding (not simply information) from people who through their passion and/or experience provide unique perspectives on their material, and use the lecture stage to “think out loud” rather than simply deliver information. Short “framing” lectures can be very useful before or after students have had the opportunity to engage with material through small group discussion, and/or problem solving application.

How, then, do we interact with our students during a lecture? Below you will find a few tools that provide practical ideas to make us more effective lecturers—interactive lecturers—to nourish student involvement and experimentation.

Interactive lecturing: Strategies for increasing participation in large group presentations
Interactive lecturing involves an increased interchange between teachers, students and the lecture content. The use of interactive lectures can promote active learning, heighten attention and motivation, give feedback to the teacher and the student, and increase satisfaction for both. This article describes a number of interactive techniques that can be used in large group presentations as well as general strategies that can promote interactivity during lectures.

Interactive Lectures Summaries of 36 Formats
Content-specific ideas for making lectures more engaging and interactive.

Lecturing and Powerpoint
A presentation by Dr. Carla Lupi delivered in June 2011. Tips and rules-of thumb for creating learner-centered presentations and lectures.

Small Group Teaching

Small group teaching is a favorite of students and when well-conducted offers unique opportunities to foster learning. In medical education, the most common platform of small-group teaching is the patient case (see below – PBL and CBL). Effective small-group teaching requires some understanding of group dynamics as well as facilitation skills to match the stage of group development.

Problem-Based Learning and Case-Based Learning (PBL and CBL)

Case Based Learning, long used in a variety of educational settings, is any instruction which is centered in a real-life, simulated or paper case. Indeed, learning from caring for patients during clinical education is case based learning. The teacher in CBL may choose to carefully define what the student from learns from the case. In medicine, this direction might take the form of “describe the differential diagnosis of this patient with shortness of breath” or “outline the mechanism of dyspnea in this case.” A common set of objectives in medical case based learning is “review the clinical presentation, differential diagnosis, work-up and treatment of this disease.” The teacher may provide all the information in a lecture or try to elicit it through discussion. CBL may take the form of a lecture in which the teacher provides all the information, or any small or large group setting where questioning and discussion are used toward learning.

CBL Facilitator Tips

Problem Based Learning is a subset of case-based learning. PBL is conducted only in small group formats. In its purest form, the teacher does not direct the students toward predetermined learning objectives but uses questioning when necessary to stimulate students to identify their own learning goals arising from the case. In pure PBL, the instructor is entirely a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage,” i.e. s/he does not answer students’ questions or provide didactics. Students themselves must seek the answers to their learning needs from each other and/or independent research. When successful, it develops both problem solving strategies, disciplinary knowledge bases, and teaching and group work skills by placing students in the active role of confronting problems in patient care.

Early developments of problem-based case education originated from a curriculum reform by medical faculty at McMaster University in Canada in the early 1970s. Innovative and forward-looking medical school programs considered the intensive pattern of basic science lectures followed by an equally exhausting clinical teaching program to be an ineffective and dehumanizing way to prepare future physicians. Given the explosion of medical information and new technology, as well as the rapidly changing demands of future medical practice, a new mode and strategy of learning was developed that would better prepare students for professional practice. PBL has spread to over 50 medical schools, and has diffused into many other professional fields including law, economics, architecture, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as in K-12 curricula.

Educational research has shown that PBL is especially effective in producing self-directed learners.

Teams-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning has been described as a special form of collaborative learning using a specific sequence of individual work, group work and immediate feedback to create a motivational framework in which students increasingly hold each other accountable for coming to class prepared and contributing to discussion. TBL dramatically shifts the focus of classroom time from conveying course concepts by the instructor to the application of course concepts by student teams. In the TBL process, students acquire their initial exposure to the content through readings and are held accountable for their preparation using a Readiness Assurance Process (RAP). The RAP process is essential, and may be fulfilled by preparatory instruction such as lecture, reading or other independent study. Following the RAP, the bulk of class time is used to practice applying content in a series of team application exercises. The components of TBL are very adaptable to many situations, disciplines and classroom types.