Are lecture-based classes or discussion-based classes more conducive to learning?



graphic by Jocelyn Wang

With students’ steadily decreasing attention spans, teachers are quickly switching their teaching methods from basic lectures and presentations to more discussions. This change can sometimes result in a lack of clear structure or presentation of in- formation, however. Lecture-based learning is superior to discussion-based learning because it is more straightforward, benefits auditory learners and teaches students to focus for longer periods of time.

Lecture-based learning is more straightforward than group discussions. Too often, discussions can get off-topic, skew the purpose of the day’s lesson and be difficult to control. This becomes an issue when it interferes with a student’s ability to learn the material and ask relevant questions. During discussions that get off-topic, it can be difficult for students to write down the most relevant and necessary information in their notes and students who do not fully understand the material could be further confused. If students are talking for the entirety of the class period, teachers do not have enough time to present accurate information. It is also less likely that teachers will become distracted with other information during their presentation than students engaging in tangents during discussions. Lectures allow for teachers to summarize material more effectively and give students the exact information they will need later on in the course, whether that be in a lab, quiz or test. Additionally, teachers are able to explain the reasoning behind the information they are presenting, something students may not be aware of while discussing new topics amongst themselves. Due to their straightforward nature, lectures are more effective than discussions when it comes to learning new information.

Lectures are also better for different types of learners and for teaching students to focus for longer periods of time. According to a Tech News study, 30 percent of students in grades K-12 are visual learners and 25 percent are auditory learners. Lectures combine these two styles of learning because teachers often include photos or visuals to accompany their presentations. They also teach students to focus during longer presentations. Later on in life, a large number of students will need to be able to sit through presentations in professional settings, and they will likely have to take notes on important information. A Time article cites Microsoft as finding that, since the digital and mobile revolution starting in 2000, the average attention span of humans has dropped from 12 seconds to eight. However, in order to be successful in a career or in life in general, one must be able to focus on one thing without get- ting distracted after eight seconds. Therefore, lectures not only benefit students by teaching them comprehensive material, but also by challenging and improving their ability to focus.

Despite the clear positives of lecture-based learning, not all lectures are equally as beneficial as others. Some teachers do not quite capture the attention of students well enough or allow for enough time to ask questions. A possible solution for this could be to run classes with a mix of lecture and discussion. In a new study of 2,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes in the United States and Canada, it was found that 55 percent use traditional lecturing, 27 percent use a mix between lecture and only 18 percent were fully discussion-based. Teachers and professors have decided that while lecturing is essential, especially for STEM classes, the ability to discuss with others enhances the content learned in lectures. Broken into small groups, students can practice asking questions and explaining information in a way that makes sense to them. Both lecture and discussion can work together with the common goal of offering students different ways to learn material.

Lecture-based classes are, ultimately, superior to pure discussion. They allow for more straightforward learning as well as teach students broader skills. Ideally, teachers would mix in discussions in order to support lectures, maximize productivity and heighten students’ understanding. While it is important to be able to ask questions regarding the material as well, fundamental knowledge must be clear before discussions can occur.