The Limitations of Lecture-Style Training

This is the second article in a three-part series about engagement and virtual training. In the last article, we defined what engagement is (and isn’t) in a virtual learning environment. In this article, we will explore the weaknesses of the traditional lecture-style training that currently dominates the training industry.

The most popular method of training at the moment (although the tide is turning) is still lecture-based, wherein the trainer basically owns the topic and feeds the participants information in a linear fashion. The learners – and I use the term loosely – in this scenario are passive; their role is simply to listen and perhaps take notes if they feel motivated to do so. If they do take notes, that activity represents the limit of their engagement.

Science, however, is not on the side of lecture-based training. Educators in all fields have long known that human beings have three different learning styles:

  • Visual Learners
    • Process information using visuals such as charts and graphs
    • Need images to explain concepts
    • Prefer graphics over words
  • Auditory Learners
    • Learn best when information is spoken
    • Prefer lectures and discussions
    • Process information by talking through it
  • Kinesthetic Learners
    • Learn best through tactile processes
    • Prefer to create tangible experiences
    • Process information through practice

In the general population, the distribution of the three learning styles is: 65% visual, 30% auditory and 5% kinesthetic.

You can’t afford to effectively reach only 30% of your employees when it comes to important training. Note, too, that lecturing alone dismisses a crucial part of even the auditory learner’s process: sorting out information by talking through it. These percentages make it very apparent that lectures leave too many people out of effective learning.

It’s tempting in the virtual world to resort to lectures because they’re easier. After all, you simply have to engage a lecturer, set a time, give your employees the log-in information, and make it mandatory. Putting together a more complex session that includes breakout/discussion groups, multiple content formats, gamification elements, and collaborative, hand-on components sounds like more work, but the return on your investment will be exponentially higher, because the information will reach all of your participants in the ways they learn best, so their engagement, information retention, and performance improve.

On the flip side, if you merely regale them with a long lecture, according to Michael Harris, an associate professor of higher education, it:

  • Does not promote critical thinking
  • Does not foster long-term information retention
  • Presumes students all have the same learning style
  • Does not allow for personalized instruction
  • Is passive
  • Overburdens the attention span
  • Is often very boring

Many of the items above are also identified by employers when they look at the skills gap in today’s workforce.  Critical thinking, personal/profession initiative, understanding and retaining information are at an all-time low.  

In a 2019 study, researchers found that students who were taught the exact same material using more engaging, interactive methods scored 10 percentage points higher when tested on that material than their counterparts, who were presented the information solely via the lecture method.

In the next article, we’ll discuss how allowing learners to own their learning experience not only improves attention and engagement, but also increases overall learning and performance.