Register |  Lost Password?
eSchool News

Ending the ‘tyranny of the lecture’

Harvard professor Eric Mazur reveals how he uses peer instruction to make learning more dynamic—and how new software can facilitate this process

Ending the 'tyranny of the lecture'

Students need to assimilate information before they can apply it to a different context, Mazur said.

At an educational technology conference in Boston July 27, Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur explained how he uses “peer instruction” to help his students engage in deeper learning than traditional lectures can provide—and he unveiled a brand-new ed-tech service that can help educators take this concept to a whole new level.

Mazur used a simple experiment to drive home his point that lecturing is an outdated—and largely ineffective—strategy for imparting knowledge.

Speaking at the 2011 Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference, organized by educational technology thought leader Alan November and his ed-tech consulting firm November Learning, Mazur asked participants to think of a skill they were good at, then explain how they mastered this skill.

While the responses from the crowd varied—some cited practice or experience, while others said trial and error—no one answered “lecture,” Mazur noted wryly.

Educators need to transfer information, he said, but students also need to do something with this information to make it stick—not simply parrot it back during a test, but actually assimilate it and take ownership of it, so they can apply this knowledge in a different context. If students can’t do that, he said, then they haven’t really learned anything.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like…

Teachers turn learning upside down

Technology takes formative assessment to a whole new level

Four things every student should learn … but not every school is teaching

For thousands of years, schools and colleges have focused on the first step in the learning process, information transfer, while leaving the critical second step—assimilation—to students outside of class, Mazur said. But that’s essentially the opposite of how school should work, he said, because the transfer of information is the easy part—and educators instead should be focusing their time on the second part of the learning process.

Before the invention of the printing press, Mazur said, lecturing was an effective way to impart information to many people simultaneously. But with the ability to mass-produce books—and especially now, with video clips that can be viewed online—information transfer can take place effectively outside of school, leaving valuable class time to ensure that students understand the material and can apply it in various contexts.

That’s what a growing number of educators are doing by adopting an inverted, or “flipped,” model of instruction, in which students are exposed to the content for homework and then practice or apply it under the guidance of the instructor—and Mazur explained how he does this in the physics classes he teaches at Harvard, with very effective results, through peer instruction.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
1  2  3  Next >  

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Comments:

  1. mike496

    July 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    My primary and secondary teachers taught primarily using the “flip-flop” approach and peer-learning methods in the 60′s and 70′s, without reliance on technology. How did we lose our way over the intervening decades?

  2. mike496

    July 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    My primary and secondary teachers taught primarily using the “flip-flop” approach and peer-learning methods in the 60′s and 70′s, without reliance on technology. How did we lose our way over the intervening decades?

  3. mjbdan

    July 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    It isn’t a matter of ‘losing our way.’ The reason that the lecture still exists is fairly simple. Students don’t do the work that is necessary to have the background information needed for peer-learning. While there is no question that today’s experts (none of whom seem to have been teachers of any worth) is the notion that lecturing is bad. Don’t do it! However, as a teacher in an urban setting (Washington, DC-ground zero for educational reform-and the hole is deep and getting deeper), my students don’t have the background knowledge needed to be able to work in a peer based system. And I teach at the best public school in the city. Until students take it upon them selves to do the work required at home, we will not see any change for the better.

  4. mjbdan

    July 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    It isn’t a matter of ‘losing our way.’ The reason that the lecture still exists is fairly simple. Students don’t do the work that is necessary to have the background information needed for peer-learning. While there is no question that today’s experts (none of whom seem to have been teachers of any worth) is the notion that lecturing is bad. Don’t do it! However, as a teacher in an urban setting (Washington, DC-ground zero for educational reform-and the hole is deep and getting deeper), my students don’t have the background knowledge needed to be able to work in a peer based system. And I teach at the best public school in the city. Until students take it upon them selves to do the work required at home, we will not see any change for the better.

  5. deaniesensei

    July 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I have mixed opinions on student-generated lectures. I have taken classes for masters and extra licenses. Throughout my courses I had both teaching/lecture styles. Personally, I learned more when the teacher lectured with open discussions/questions. I learned the least when the students presented and did most of the class content/presentations/etc. It also left me feeling like we “the students” ended up with the task of creating the class content. I paid a lot of money for the instructor to bring the information/content to me. I think it’s a bogus philosophy to put the responsibility on students to create the class materials. I can see this as a few lessons throughout the course to spot check for understanding but when the whole class is to give you websites, etc. and you’re told to go out, find the resources, read it and report back to the class. I pay $300 or more per credit to learn from the expert in front of the room, not confused (possibly espousing opinions) students sitting in the class.

  6. deaniesensei

    July 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I have mixed opinions on student-generated lectures. I have taken classes for masters and extra licenses. Throughout my courses I had both teaching/lecture styles. Personally, I learned more when the teacher lectured with open discussions/questions. I learned the least when the students presented and did most of the class content/presentations/etc. It also left me feeling like we “the students” ended up with the task of creating the class content. I paid a lot of money for the instructor to bring the information/content to me. I think it’s a bogus philosophy to put the responsibility on students to create the class materials. I can see this as a few lessons throughout the course to spot check for understanding but when the whole class is to give you websites, etc. and you’re told to go out, find the resources, read it and report back to the class. I pay $300 or more per credit to learn from the expert in front of the room, not confused (possibly espousing opinions) students sitting in the class.

  7. janthos

    July 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I also teach computer programming in a college where students do little or no preparation for class. Many do not open the text until they are told to in class. I then proceed through the text in class to familiarize students with the terminology and how the code relates through examples in the text, the class discusses how the concepts lead to the code shown. We then use the concepts to write a program in class together. once done, we discuss what each line of code relates to the concepts we learned. Through hands-on application of what was covered, students can better understand what they have done and why.

  8. janthos

    July 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I also teach computer programming in a college where students do little or no preparation for class. Many do not open the text until they are told to in class. I then proceed through the text in class to familiarize students with the terminology and how the code relates through examples in the text, the class discusses how the concepts lead to the code shown. We then use the concepts to write a program in class together. once done, we discuss what each line of code relates to the concepts we learned. Through hands-on application of what was covered, students can better understand what they have done and why.

  9. r1ckr011

    July 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I don’t see this is a problem. The fact that our students are underachievers as the 2nd poster pointed out is more or less irrelevant. The “background” information is something that is completely outside of class and which is largely just noise for the most of us. Unless practical application follows from knowledge, it will wither and die. That is a really simple and commonsense idea that has been largely ignored recently.

    I know i speak for other students as well as myself when i find that study groups (which IS the second part of the process) are essential for higher learning and even rudimentary learning in some cases. So why should we pretend that students can’t do what they are already having to do. It’s “socialist” for the students to share what they have learned with their peers? Should the knowledge and expertise be concentrated solely with the instructors, like some sort of educational pyramid scheme? If we are to make it to higher heights with our educational goals, everyone has to try a little harder and pick up the slack for their classmates. Like it or not, society will already be doing this automatically when the students come out of colleges and schools and into the job market. That’s how the system works. Some people will be having to work harder so other people will be more successful as well as themselves (everybody has a manager or ruler above himself,no?)

    The fact that we can bootstrap the process and combine the two steps into one is really innovative and would not be possible without information tech. But we have copious amounts of that to spare. It’s time to be more practical with our brainpower and incorporate social aspects to learning instead of relying solely on our left brain

  10. r1ckr011

    July 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I don’t see this is a problem. The fact that our students are underachievers as the 2nd poster pointed out is more or less irrelevant. The “background” information is something that is completely outside of class and which is largely just noise for the most of us. Unless practical application follows from knowledge, it will wither and die. That is a really simple and commonsense idea that has been largely ignored recently.

    I know i speak for other students as well as myself when i find that study groups (which IS the second part of the process) are essential for higher learning and even rudimentary learning in some cases. So why should we pretend that students can’t do what they are already having to do. It’s “socialist” for the students to share what they have learned with their peers? Should the knowledge and expertise be concentrated solely with the instructors, like some sort of educational pyramid scheme? If we are to make it to higher heights with our educational goals, everyone has to try a little harder and pick up the slack for their classmates. Like it or not, society will already be doing this automatically when the students come out of colleges and schools and into the job market. That’s how the system works. Some people will be having to work harder so other people will be more successful as well as themselves (everybody has a manager or ruler above himself,no?)

    The fact that we can bootstrap the process and combine the two steps into one is really innovative and would not be possible without information tech. But we have copious amounts of that to spare. It’s time to be more practical with our brainpower and incorporate social aspects to learning instead of relying solely on our left brain

  11. reycarr

    August 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Peer-based teaching and peer-led discussion have been used extensively for quite some time in many colleges and universities. I hope this article isn’t implying that this is another thing that Harvard invented. In fact, they seem to be the last to the party, and by far not the first. We’ve been cataloguing these methods, providing training, and acting as a clearinghouse for information about them since 1982.

  12. reycarr

    August 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Peer-based teaching and peer-led discussion have been used extensively for quite some time in many colleges and universities. I hope this article isn’t implying that this is another thing that Harvard invented. In fact, they seem to be the last to the party, and by far not the first. We’ve been cataloguing these methods, providing training, and acting as a clearinghouse for information about them since 1982.

  13. Tim Raymond

    August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Application, outcome based education, performance standards, all have had their day in this conversation and continue to do so and with good reason. At some point application is necessary for the higher levels of thinking to be engaged. As professional educator’s in this scenario it’s our responsibility to provide the incentive for our students to want “to take it upon themselves to do the work”. Content based lecture being the only formative tool used in the classroom for instruction has shown to be limited if used as the only instructional strategy. We’re capable of so much more and our students deserve that.

  14. Tim Raymond

    August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Application, outcome based education, performance standards, all have had their day in this conversation and continue to do so and with good reason. At some point application is necessary for the higher levels of thinking to be engaged. As professional educator’s in this scenario it’s our responsibility to provide the incentive for our students to want “to take it upon themselves to do the work”. Content based lecture being the only formative tool used in the classroom for instruction has shown to be limited if used as the only instructional strategy. We’re capable of so much more and our students deserve that.