To lecture, or not to lecture?

Lecture to one personThe subject of lecturing and presenting is one which we discuss regularly on our Teach the Teacher Course of Doctors. Without doubt, a well planned, well delivered lecture by a great speaker on an appropriate subject can be very, very effective. It is a good option where audience numbers are large and the focus is on knowledge. You can guarantee your explanations, ideas and messages have been made available to each and every learner in a consistent manner. Many medical schools have large cohorts of students at each stage level of development. Many conferences are staged at large venues with lectern, screen and microphone. As a consequence, the lecture has become a default style of teaching for doctors around the globe. But is it always the best option? To lecture, or not to lecture?

That is the question

On our course, we begin by exploring the theory of adult learning. Although we all have our individual preferences, there are some universal truths. One of these truths is that our ability to pay attention, grasp concepts, interpret information and then commit them to memory is directly related to stimulation of our senses and intellect. Good lectures certainly stimulate our aural and visual senses. They can also be designed to stimulate intellect. However such an approach to teaching misses many vital ingredients. As numbers of learners decrease, any sole reliance on lecturing becomes increasingly absurd and misses many opportunities. In addition, your ability to practice as a doctor goes well beyond knowledge alone.

Imagine talking with a group of friends

Can you really develop skills such as manual dexterity by universally addressing the crowd? If you were trying to explain something to them would you present for 45 minutes in the manner of a television broadcast, then offer them 10 minutes for questions – or would you do something else? Taken to the extreme, if you were aiming to help just one person learn something, would you deliver a lecture?

In addition to being exposed to theory, the vast majority of learners relish the opportunity to discover things for themselves. As well as learning from observing others they need to experiment and practice. Our attention levels are boosted through engaging with other people and through movement. In short, we all benefit from interactive, experiential approaches to learning.

Versatility starts with mindset

When tasked with helping a group of people learn about something, many of the words which come to mind drive us in the direction of delivering a broadcast style lecture. “My presentation”, “I’m doing a talk”, “I’ve been asked to speak about…” are just a few of the examples. A simple shift is to take the view that “I am running a teaching session”, or, even better, “I’m helping this group of people to learn about…” Connecting that paradigm with a little creativity opens the window to a very different experience for the learners.

So, although a lecture has its time and place, it is only one of the methods that you can utilise to help enable others.

Stephen McGuire – Head of Development