University lectures are ineffective for learning, analysis finds

BY Travis Daub  May 12, 2014 at 6:22 PM EST

A lecture hall at Dalian University of Technology in China. Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr

A lecture hall at Dalian University of Technology in China. Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr

After nearly a thousand years, it might be time for universities to rethink how professors convey wisdom and information to their students, Science magazine reports. A meta-analysis of 225 studies published in PNAS found that the age-old practice of students snoozing while a professor speaks from a lecturn is far less effective than other, more active forms of learning for university students.

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University told Science magazine. Mazur was not directly involved in the study.

Active learning, which regularly engages students in discussion, call and response, or learning-related activities was found to produce much better results than lectures, resulting in as much as a 6% improvement in students’ grades. Still, Science points out, the definitions of active learning are still fuzzy and the research did not cover another emerging academic trend: massive open online courses.