Successful Lecturing: Presenting Information in Ways That Engage Effective Processing

Successful Lecturing: Presenting Information in Ways That Engage Effective Processing

by Patricia Ann deWinstanley and Robert A. Bjork
New Directions for Teaching and Learning 89: 19-31, 2002

Reviewed by L. E. Olson

Recognizing that the lecture is likely to remain an integral part of the professional curriculum, I recently did a literature search to see what had been published recently on the topic. I found the suggestions in this article worth considering, because each suggestion appeared to be supported by empirical research. The authors begin by saying that they find it unfortunate that lecturing seems to be in ?disrepute? these days, because they believe that the lecture format is both indispensable for teaching large classes and can be an effective teaching method ? if done in a manner that induces effective information processing.

They then list several components to effective information processing;

  1. Attention1
    a. Enhances memory
    b. Divided attention shown to be particularly detrimental during the encoding process ? may cause students to misjudge how much study time needed for learning
  2. Interpretation
    a. Fitting new information in with what they know already
    b. Required for learning
  3. Elaboration
    a. Thinking of information in a number of ways, along with the implications of the new information
    b. Deepens understanding and facilitates recall
  4. Generation
    a. Actually producing the information
    b. Leads to better learning
  5. Retrieval Practice
    a. Pulling the new information out of memory
    b. Enhances likelihood of recall later.

After describing the importance of each component, the authors suggest ways to improve processing, and therefore long-term retention, by lecturing in ways that facilitate student engagement.

  1. Space repetitions of important information within and across lectures. Cover difficult or important information more than once, spaced across time, using multiple approaches. Research shows that what appears to be the common sense approach ? massing coverage of an important point within a single lecture ? is not optimal for student learning.
  2. Present key concepts from multiple perspectives and demonstrate the relevance of the information in multiple contexts to enhance variable encoding of information and facilitate generalization of the knowledge. Interestingly one of the studies cited suggests that faculty who are teaching the information when the ?light finally comes on? get better teaching evaluations than those who do the prep work of ?stringing the wires?. This may explain some of the student comments I?m sure that most of us have gotten at one time or another along the lines of ? ?I only learned this when Dr.xxxx presented the material later in the course?. Yes, you were finally ready to learn it ? but it was likely taught multiple times by different faculty throughout the course/curriculum.
  3. Provide structure to the lecture. Provide an outline with headers or a concept map that the students use to facilitate note-taking during the lecture, then make the information available on the internet so they can defer note-taking and listen without worrying that they will miss something. The research cited contends that allowing students to defer note-taking if they choose can enhance learning. Another study documented that students who took notes with an outline had better notes, performed better on a relational test, and recalled more ideas from the lecture than students who took notes without an outline.
  4. Provide visual images, mental images, or other mnemonic techniques during the lecture. Studies documented enhanced learning of unfamiliar information by constructing an analogy table, selective injection of subject-relevant humor, or strategic injection of enthusiasm. Selective placement of enthusiastic comments within the lecture promoted learning more than overall enthusiasm. Given that 55 minute lectures can exceed typical attention spans, the authors suggest lecturing for 25 minutes, then doing a mnemonic technique (demonstration, class exercise etc.), then lecturing for the final 20 minutes.
  5. Provide opportunities for students to explain the reasons for answers. Research showed that students who studied in a group and never elaborated their own answers performed more poorly than the students who provided the explanations for the answers. The authors suggest that requiring students to answer questions during the lecture increases the likelihood that students will be able to transfer the learning to different situations. Students could be asked to respond to questions, make predictions, generate lists of specific terms, or create outlines of the information.

In sum, the name of the game is structuring the lecture so that the students encode the information in a way that renders it retrievable and transferable? which is what learning is all about. Although students always seem (to me) to be clamoring for more detailed class notes ? this article suggests that it may not be in their best interest to have the detailed notes in front of them during the lecture.


Interestingly, they suggest that teaching tools such as PowerPoint have made faculty more susceptible to dividing the attention of students by asking them attend to slides that contain information that differs from what is being spoken.