LecturesMy wife recently joined a friend for a lecture on a free day at our local Academy of Lifelong Learning that conducts courses for seniors on a variety of subjects by volunteer instructors.  They are quite popular, and you probably have something similar in your area.

As she was getting dressed to leave, I thought how inefficient a live lecture is to transfer knowledge.  Unless I had some special need for socializing or for just getting out of the house, I would much rather read about the topic.  In ten minutes I could learn what took her all morning to acquire.  Reading allows you to skip right to the heart of the subject, repeat what is not clear, and leaves you with something to review later.  If you learn better by sound rather than sight, there are many recorded lectures on YouTube where you can also skip and repeat.

Okay, I understand getting out of the house, meeting new people, reconnecting with friends is all good, and well worth the effort.  My wife’s attendance at lectures is always accompanied by lunch, and a snapshot of her gathered with friends at some restaurant looks much healthier than me alone at home staring at my computer screen.

When I began teaching Red Cross aquatic courses, I had to first take their excellent course on how to teach.  There, they stressed that the lecture is the last-resort, worst technique of teaching.  Almost any other method you could come up with would be better than droning on to disconnected students.  The only ones really learning are the instructors as they prepare for the course.  Teaching a subject is one of the best ways of learning it thoroughly for yourself.

I will grant one point to a live lecture.  Thoreau who said we pay instructors to teach us, but most of what we learn is from our fellow students.  When I was teaching a swimming pool operator’s course for the State of Delaware, I often had to reluctantly call everyone back from break.  They were mostly blue-collar workers from motels, schools, and apartment complexes who had spontaneously formed lively groups discussing their daily pool problems with each other, and I had no doubt they were learning more than they would get from me.  In their discussions, each was both student and instructor, and real learning was happening, just as it happens in our normal, daily conversations.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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