From the ancient Grecian sophists delivering rhetorical oratories to adoring throngs, to the staid scientists presenting analytical treatises to graduate students, vocalizing an organized lecture to a group of students has long been among the hallmarks of traditional educational delivery. The process of arranging complex subject matter within the relatively accessible framework of lecturing affords educators a number of distinct benefits, including the standardization of student exposure to learning material, the ability to customize lessons in accordance with the collective needs of a class, and the opportunity to inject creativity into dense and demanding instruction. Despite the historical reliance on lecturing to impart knowledge and skills to a wide audience, however, the modernization of educational communication which has occurred in conjunction with the digital age has exposed many of disadvantages inherent to the typical teacher-delivered lecture. The availability of online lecture series delivered directly from experts in particular fields, rather than professors who hold a superficial knowledge based on textbook material, has emerged as the next evolution in educational lecturing, with thousands of students viewing interactive lecture sessions through online venues like YouTube, Skype, and similar services. The following explication will review the practical applications of lecturing in the classroom, assess the strengths and weaknesses of this educational delivery method, and identify creative and effective ways to integrate traditional lectures into today's interconnected, internet-based classroom setting.
Any student who has ever sat restlessly through a long lecture knows that this form of educational delivery is highly contingent on the natural charisma and oratorical abilities of the instructor. When a teacher is capable of captivating an entire classroom through their speaking style, a natural connection is formed which facilitates the absorption of almost any type of educational material, from didactic instructional tutorials to emotionally charged literature discussions. Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated that "lecturing style teaching positively affects student performance but that this effect is caused by unobserved teacher characteristics" (Van Klaveren, 2011), and it is this dependence on the lecturer's personality to impart knowledge which separates lecturing from its more clinical instructional counterparts. The art of effective lecturing involves a combination of communicative skills, empathy with one's audience, and the almost innate ability to guide a classroom's collective experience while also reaching individual students through the same message. Centuries of study have consistently shown that students are most capable of true learning when they are exposed to stimulating lectures delivered by teachers who have built a foundation of credibility (Morrison et al., 2011). By developing a rapport with their classroom that extends beyond the concept of educational objectives and into the realm of mutual respect, the most proficient lecturers are afforded daily opportunities to reach students on a personal level, while also pursuing a rigorous educational regimen in congruence with statewide curricula.
One of the most groundbreaking theoretical advances in the field of instructional design has focused on the concept of individualized learning styles, with students absorbing educational material most readily through either visual, auditory, or tactile/kinetic means (Exley & Rennick, 2009). The traditionally delivered lecture is primarily directed towards auditory learners, or those students who retain information most effectively through the simple act of listening, and the more complex process of cognitive conceptualizing. Although lecturing is most often utilized as an auditory learning method, the integration of technology into modern classrooms, which has increased exponentially since the early 1990's, has enabled creatively inclined teachers to augment and enhance their lectures with visual aids. The now ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation, which evolved from projector-screen slideshows, represents the optimization of the lecture because this tool combines both auditory and visual learning within a conveniently accessible template. When students are engaged by a well-designed PowerPoint presentation, the lecture delivered vocally by the teacher is automatically reinforced by the viewing of relevant visual images, and this combinatory approach stimulates multiple cognitive processes associated with the more widely recognized styles of learning.
The audio-visual approach to lecturing has emerged in response to the mounting effort to integrate the precepts of so-called "active learning" into modern curricula, as opposed to the "passive learning" associated with students sitting in silence while listening to a scripted speech. As research on cognitive functioning reveals the complexity of informational absorption and retention, the fundamental role of traditional lecturing within the classroom setting has been curtailed in favor of more immersive, interactive instructional methods. This transition away from lecturing as the predominant mode of educational delivery is the result of a preponderance of "empirical research which has shown that even in the most interesting lecture, attention levels naturally tend to drop (often dramatically) after the first 20 minutes of the presentation" (Revell & Wainwright, 2009). While the advent of PowerPoint presentations and similarly visual lecture delivery styles in the last two decades provided a much needed enhancement to traditional lecturing, many researchers are now observing the same disturbing trend of desensitization to slideshow lectures. With the vast majority of college professors teaching at large universities responsible for educating classes consisting of hundreds of students, each guided by their own individual learning styles, the now customary process of lecturing along to a visual presentation has devolved into a rote routine of scripted speeches delivered in dispassionate monotone. When one considers that "the prevailing wisdom amongst pedagogic scholars now is that students do not actively listen very much at all in formal lectures, unless they are broken up with multiple rest periods and activities that help lift attention levels" (Revell & Wainwright, 2009), it becomes apparent that the traditional lecturing style of teaching must be revamped to satisfy the cognitive demands of modern education.
One of the primary reasons that lectures have endured for centuries as a critical component of instructional design is the fact that many, if not most, educators were inspired to pursue their chosen profession after becoming inspired by a particularly stirring lecture during their own educational experience. When a powerful speaker with the ability to reach students on a personally meaningful level manages to deliver a lecture that influences the course of people's lives, this effect can have a lasting impression that leaves the current generation of teachers trying to replicate these informative experiences. As many critics of standardized lecturing observe, however, "such rare lectures generally have enduring effects not because of the factual information they convey, but more likely because they inspire by example, or reveal unexpected new insights, or open up new worlds to their listeners ... (and) few instructors can hope to deliver at best more than one or two such lectures during a semester" (Knight & Wood, 2005). In order to more effectively integrate lecturing within the confines of today's modernized educational context, instructors today must recognize that this traditional teaching tool has to be used sparingly if it is to retain its efficacy for students accustomed to interactive media and constant creative expression.
For proponents of lecturing as a viable method of educational delivery, salvation may have manifested in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), an innovative concept which enables educators to reach thousands of learners through recorded libraries of interactive online lectures. With the prolonged global recession disproportionately affecting low-income students, the rising price of tuition for traditional universities and state colleges has made higher education cost prohibitive for many young people around the world. As reported by BBC News, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has become a staunch advocate of MOOCs and their application of modern internet customization to the traditional lecturing style of teaching. As part of his public campaign to raise awareness as to the benefits of MOOC educational design, Mr. Wales has stated that "the traditional university lecture should have been condemned decades ago and replaced with an online video recording that can be stopped and started ... (while) suggesting the future model of…