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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