16. Transmissive Lectures: Learning by Listening

16.7. Is There a Future for Lectures in a Digital Age?

That depends on how far into the future one wants to look. Given the inertia in the system, lectures are likely still to predominate for another ten years, but after that, in most institutions, courses based on three lectures a week over 13 weeks will have disappeared. There are several reasons for this:

  • All content can be easily digitalized and made available on-demand at a very low cost.
  • Institutions will be making greater use of dynamic video (not talking heads) for demonstration, simulations, animations, etc. Thus most content modules will be multi-media.
  • Third, open textbooks incorporating multi-media components and student activities will provide the content, organization, and interpretation that are the rationale for most lectures.
  • Lastly, and most significantly, the priority for teaching will have changed from information transmission and organization to knowledge management, where students have the responsibility for finding, analyzing, evaluating, sharing and applying knowledge, under the direction of a skilled subject expert. Project-based learning, collaborative learning, and situated or experiential learning will become much more widely prevalent. Also, many instructors will prefer to use the time they would have spent on a series of lectures in providing more direct, individual and group learner support, thus bringing them into closer contact with learners.

This does not mean that lectures will disappear altogether, but they will be special events, and probably multi-media, synchronously, and asynchronously delivered. Special events might include:

  • A professor’s summary of her latest research
  • The introduction to a course
  • A point mid-way through a course for taking stock and dealing with common difficulties, or
  • The wrap-up to a course

Lectures will provide a chance for instructors to make themselves known, to impart their interests and enthusiasm, and to motivate learners, but this will be just one, relatively a small, but important component of a much broader learning experience for students.

For a different and informed perspective on the role and future of lectures, see Christine Gross-Loh, 2016.