Random Thoughts on Passive Learning and Lectures

Karl Kapp, Kapp Notes, Aug 11, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Let's begin here: “Passivity isn’t wrong because it’s boring; it’s wrong because it doesn’t work.” The post is on lectures and it surveys the evidence. But in an inference like this I tend to ask whether we understand the premise. What does it mean to say "it doesn't work"? Karl Kapp cites this: "undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail." But as Allison Littlejohn writes, student motives - and motivations - vary. It's not all about passing the test. When I lecture - and I give talks a lot - I am never trying to give the audience a bunch of stuff to remember (and I give them slides and sometimes text in case they want the information later). I'm trying to get them to ask questions they haven't considered, to imagine previously unimagined possibilities, to see things from a different (sometimes warped) perspective, or to question their own assumptions. Sure, if you want people to remember stuff, give them active learning. But if you want to shake them up, ask them questions.

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