Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lecture-Based VS. Interactive Learning: Which is Future of Education?

Why do so many people struggle to find quality education?  It’s ironic, because in this country (United States) educators have among the best resources and tools available to provide outstanding learning experiences.  Yet, they consistently fall short of performing at that level.

The same dilemma holds true with presenters delivering adult continuing education at meetings and conferences.  So what is the problem here?  Consistently I hear the same complaints from my friends, family, peers and colleagues.

… “The instructor was boring” …” There was no discussion, just a talking head” … “It was another one of those lame lectures.” …”This class was a waste of time” … “I learned nothing”

Do these comments resonate with you?  Think for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often have you sat in a classroom, or at a conference, and been absolutely bored with the material being presented? I have, more often than not.
  • Have you ever walked out of a presentation feeling like you learned nothing? Absolutely!
  • Finally, do you oftentimes feel like you wasted your money after attending an educational event?  I do.

Lecture-Based Education — Is there any Learning Value?

Historically  schools, universities and adult education providers have used a “lecture-based” teaching model.  This approach to learning was developed during the industrial age, some two centuries ago.  The concept is for students to sit passively in rows of chairs or tables all facing the presenter, who usually resides at a lectern.  A lecture is a “one-to-many” form of communication, involving little or no audience participation.  It is authoritarian, by nature.

For an information dump a lecture works fine.  Unfortunately, for any type of deep learning to occur more interactive teaching methods must be utilized.  Modern brain science suggests that human beings are not wired to learn passively.  For more information I would recommend reading “Brain Rules” written by Dr. John Medina.  This fascinating book will tell you the rest of the story regarding which education “best practices” support learning retention.

I remember my high school and college years, where day after day I would sit in some classes, along with other students, listening to teachers spew information at me,  without any opportunity for interaction whatsoever.  Inevitably, my mind would become overloaded with information, since there was no break in the action.  Without even knowing it, my brain was shutting down, to reboot, if you will.  Of course this response frequently got me in trouble, as teachers would eventually notice I wasn’t paying attention.

I really started to believe there was something wrong with me, as this trend continued in my professional life with adult learning events.  I now realize the challenge was the method by which the education content was being presented, not by my capacity to learn.

Are 21st Century Students Needs Being Met?

My beliefs about the dysfunctional nature of our society’s learning system were validated just the other day, as I listened to Michael (my son) describe, over dinner with my friend Jeff Hurt and I, his frustrations with his high school and college education.  Interestingly my son and I share many of the same insights and concerns about those experiences.

Michael is 25 years old, and extremely intelligent. He is one of those gifted people that always received  good grades with little or no effort. He also, like me, had issues with boredom in the classroom.  For years I chose to “tough it out” and tolerated poor teaching methods, for the sake of a college diploma.  My son chose to opt out, because he felt his time was more valuable than the disappointing education experience he was receiving.

I can’t say that I blame him, although that decision has made it more difficult for him to succeed in the workplace.  Michael wants to go back to school, and further develop his skills and knowledge.  I support that.  However, I do know he will be very selective of his learning environment.

Interactive Learning is the Future of Education!

The real truth is teachers and students both must advocate for change in our school systems and other types of educational curriculum. Here’s what, in my opinion,  needs to change:

  • Students must insist their learning experience become more socially interactive and brain friendly.  They must help educators understand their needs and expectations, openly and honestly.
  • Teachers and instructors must reach for a higher standard of engagement in their classrooms.  Their presentations must foster collaboration, and their lesson plans must include interactive breaks with group exercises.

“Learning is an active process. Learning cannot occur without the involvement of the learner. The best educators are those that most successfully create the conditions under which learning may take place.” – Learning In the Information Age

There is some movement in this direction, thanks to the growth of social technology.  Social Networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have opened up communication channels, and given students a voice to express their feedback openly and without restraint.  Nowadays, even if the presenter won’t open up a class to interaction students will find a way to interact with one another using mobile devices.  They will call out publicly instructors that don’t meet their needs.

Question:  How do you perceive the quality of your education experiences?  What changes do you believe need to be made?  What do you see coming in the future?  Do tell!

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenise Fryatt October 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Excellent post Mike and one that I really relate to. I was very vocal about my dissatisfaction with the education system from the time I was in high school. (I used to write editorials about it in the school newspaper.)

I strongly considered homeschooling my own kids but for personal reasons, chose to put both into public school, with DEEP reservations. Both were frustrated with the system just like I had been. But my son’s frustration really mirrored what mine had been as a student and, because of that, he has taken part in an independent study program for most of high school. He graduates this year.

I’m grateful that at least there are alternatives now that I didn’t have. However the question remains, after decades of research showing that the current “passive listening” model impedes rather than facilitates learning, WHEN will public schools change their ways? I’ve seen all kinds of advocacy for change, but there is still very little.


Michael M McCurry CMP October 21, 2010 at 8:26 am

Hi Jenise,

Your question about the public school systems is a good one. It is baffling that teachers still insist on dumping information on their students rather than get them actively involved in the learning process.

It is certainly not a cost issue as it is no more expensive to teach interactively than to lecture students. Very puzzling.

I would love some insight from teachers themselves on why they choose to deliver content the way they do.

Thanks for contributing.



Jeff Hurt October 21, 2010 at 11:32 am


Well, you know my thoughts on this. I’m a huge advocate that conferences need to change the focus from speakers to learners and from attendees to participants.

Ironically, the same challenges many of us had in public education with boring classes and an emphasis on standardization have made their way into many conferences. Some conferences emphasize CEUs so attendees can get certifications (run by those organizations).

Conferences need to return to a focus on the participant as a leaner and rethink a lot of the traditional process, education and schedule. The main question driving the conference planning should be, “Is this the best thing for our learners?” Just sayin…


Michael M McCurry CMP October 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm


Couldn’t agree with you more? The key thing you said is “focus on participant” as a learner.

I often think of the information dump “lecture style” as the “Foie de gras” version of education. Stuff em with information as long as you can and let them drown in it. :)

I know there is a relatively small movement towards the approach to conference education you mentioned. We just need to unify ourselves in the conference business and grow that way of thinking and action.

Thanks for contributing.



Christina October 28, 2010 at 9:11 am

Just came across this post, Mike – great job!!


Michael M McCurry CMP October 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Hey Christina, thanks for stopping by and I am glad you enjoyed the post.

As a Millenial, what is your take on this subject? How do you view learning? Have you had some of the same frustrations that Michael (my son) and I had?

Would love your thoughts.



John Baragona October 28, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Hi Mike,
This is definitely one of the great discussions of the day in this “decade of transition” we’re in. Having organized more than 25 conferences in various industries over the last 20 years I am particularly sensitive to and engaged in this discussion. I think it’s important to note that the future isn’t one or the other. It’s a combination, a transition and an evolution of education. There are still many excellent lecture-based educational options that should never die completely. A dynamic and engaging speaker can present an awesome lecture-based session. Similarly, there are many very poor lecture-based sessions in which attendees learn nothing.
My friend Jeff Hurt mentions in his comment that he is an advocate of conferences changing the focus from speakers to learners. I could not agree more. But that shouldn’t automatically dismiss lecture-based sessions from the agenda. They have their place, and it is incumbent on the speaker to enhance that traditional format by being interesting, getting the participants to engage when appropriate, and making sure he/she is not putting the audience to sleep.
However, more engaging/learner-based programs should definitely become more mainstream components of conference educational programs. It’s interesting that these ideas are often pushed forward by some of the leading technology thought-leaders in our industry (i.e. people like you and Jeff). Technology is being thrust into the forefront as the one of the logical driving forces of this trend. While I would agree with that, I would also argue that technology shouldn’t necessarily be the primary reason for doing it even though it is the most convenient reason. Learner-based education is simply an excellent format for education in and of itself. But it is not for everyone and it is not for every topic. There are many topics I would rather listen to the “expert” speaker for a solid hour than to allow a more interactive approach where the participants often hijack the session into other directions, or eat up valuable speaker time espousing their own viewpoints. Sometimes “learners” just don’t want that. Then again, there are other times the “learners” are extremely valuable in taking the class in the direction it really needs to go.
My point? The future is not one or the other. It’s both. Educational directors have to become more skilled and sensitive to be able to choose the right formats and the right speakers for each topic. This puts the onus on organizations to ensure that their educational directors have these skills, that they are people who are engaged in the industry, understand the topics and issues that need to be explored, and are capable of building a comprehensive program that meets as many different attendee needs as possible. It’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
I’m very much looking forward to Jeff’s “handling” of the i-Room educational component he will be leading at the Event Solutions Idea Factory this year. It is hopefully a step forward for our conference in broadening the educational capabilities of the conference and we’ll definitely be watching it closely so we can tweak and improve it in years to come. For anyone who is interested here’s the link to the i-Room I’m talking about. I’m not trying to be self-promotional here so feel free to delete the link if you feel I’m “hijacking” the topic, lol.


Michael M McCurry CMP October 28, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hi John,

You have certainly added to the conversation with your comments and insights! Thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts.

I agree that lectures in the right context are absolutely a viable way to deliver education value. The problem is so many presenters get caught up in what they are saying and forget they need to engage their audiences.. that is my beef!

I agree its not about technology … its about learning and collaboration. It’s also about starting and maintaining a meaningful conversation.

Thanks for stopping by and for all of your shared wisdom.



@executiveoasis November 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

You’re right on the money with this one Mike. At many (dare I say most) corporate meetings and conferences, the approach seems to be cram as much into the agenda as possible through boring lectures. With all that has been discovered about adult learning, I don’t know why this persists. I also blogged about this recently. Seems great minds think alike. :)

Executive Corporate Meeting Re-engineering Guide

Accelerated Learning to Engage Conference and
Corporate Meeting Participants


Michael M McCurry CMP November 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Hey Anne,

Thanks for your comments and for contributing to the conversation.

Hopefully all of us that advocate education reform, can continue to share our insights and opinions and somewhere along the way change will occur.

I think it is imminent.



Event Management Companies November 4, 2010 at 11:46 am

I really think that the traditional format of education hasn’t caught up with our technology yet! I’ll be VERY interested to see what happens when classrooms catch up with the capabilities!


Michael M McCurry CMP November 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Hey there,

I am with you on that one… it would be nice, if it’s even possible for schools to catch up with technology.

We shall see…

Thanks for stopping by and contributing.



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