Man lecturing to full room with projected presentation
HealthOctober 22, 2020

Is lecturing a sin? Active learning in perspective

By: Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Since Patricia Benner’s book “Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation in Nursing Education” was released in 2010, only lecturing in the classroom to deliver content has decreased popularity by nurse educators. Suddenly, flipped classrooms, collaborative learning, one-minute papers, and jigsaws became all the rage to totally replace the time-old tradition of lecturing to deliver content for student learning.

Some nurse educators became so convinced the new ways were better that they replaced all of their lectures with videos to be watched before class, put students in groups to teach the content to other groups and switched their classroom structure every 20 minutes to a different activity for the student to perform. This total change of traditional educational techniques has caused uneasiness and even hostility to be voiced by the students, which has led to such student statements like “the instructor doesn’t do anything” and “we attend Teach Yourself University.”

So, was Patricia Benner and so many other nursing education experts wrong? Hardly. Active learning strategies used by nurse educators lead to the students being able to think critically and achieve long-term learning. Most nurse educators become disillusioned by the response of their students and their declining course evaluations to this total change and just went back to what is familiar and safe… lecturing. This conundrum can be solved in one word: perspective.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the word “perspective” means “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed”. The subject here is the classroom, and its parts are lecture and active learning. If the nurse educator sees lecturing as all bad and active learning as all good, then doing just one or the other in the classroom will not be successful. Instead, let me offer you a chance at a new perspective.

  1. Give your students a high-quality lecture. Offer several 10-15 minutes bites of interesting, voice inflecting, jaw-dropping lecture on a chunk of your topic at any one moment of your class time. Preface it with a good hook that catches the listener’s attention to the topic and then reel them in with some content. Give them a listener’s guide to where they have guided notetaking while you are talking. Record these chunks with a free podcast app such as Anchor and give the MP4 link to your students to listen to later in the week.
  2. Start slow and steady with active learning. The reason a frog doesn’t jump out of boiling water in a pot is because it started out with cool water and slowly increased it. This week incorporate one or two activities in your class time. Look at your modular objectives and meet one objective with an active learning strategy instead of a lecture. An example would be instead of lecturing on all of the immunizations children need by the age of 12, divide your students into groups of four, and pass out the names of immunizations secretly to each group. Give the students 10 minutes to look up their vaccine on a reputable website and then play “Who am I?” Allow the group to give one fact about the vaccine and have the other groups try to guess. It is fun, and by the time each group gives all those facts about childhood immunization and students guess over and over, they will have learned the vaccines without you saying a word.
  3. Assess the culture. Ask your students about their former learning experiences. Find out what they did not like about their former classroom instruction and then don’t do that! What your students expect in the classroom can have a big impact on their acceptance and participation in your classroom design. Also, assess the culture of your colleagues. Is everyone only lecturing? Is everyone totally flipping their classroom and doing only active learning strategies? Their participation in some active learning strategies and high-quality lecture can set you up for a culture of acceptance by your students and subsequent success.

What are your thoughts about lecturing and active learning strategies? What have been your successes and failures?

Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Nursing Education Author, Wolters Kluwer Health
  1. Benner, P. et. al (2010). Educating nurses: A call for radical transformation. California: Josey Bass
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