Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fortieth Anniversary of Donald Bligh's "What's the use of Lectures?"

Some blog followers might be interested in “Fortieth Anniversary of Donald Bligh’s What's the use of Lectures?” [Hake (2011)].

The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: Philosopher George MacDonald Ross posted a link to his essay “What's the Use of Lectures? - Forty Years On.” Ross wrote [bracketed by lines “RRRRR. . . . . ”:

It is 40 years since the first publication of Donald Bligh's classic work What's the Use of Lectures? (London, Bligh, 1971). It was a devastating critique, based on thorough empirical research, of the use of the lecture as the main method of teaching in higher education. It had been established that the only educational function lectures were capable of achieving was the transmission of factual information, and even then they were no better than other methods, and lecturers wildly overestimated the amount of information students were capable of remembering. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Among educationalists, it is established orthodoxy that lecturing is the least effective way of transmitting knowledge, understanding, and intellectual techniques from teachers to students; and it is a striking measure of the marginalisation of educational researchers and developers that, on this issue at least, they have had virtually no influence on institutional structures or academic practice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The idea of a university which replaces listening to the reading of a text in a lecture by the reading of the text in printed form is known as a “post-Gutenberg University” - an idea first mooted by Frank Lambert in the 1950s: It is long overdue, and one of the tragedies of current university education is that we have abandoned the disputation, which really did force students to think independently and imaginatively, and retained the lecture, which has been redundant for half a millennium.

STLHE-L’s Martin Rosenzweig (2011) responded (slightly edited):

“I would suggest that lecturing persists because:
a. it is ‘cost-effective’ - one lecturer serving many (paying) auditors,
b. it is how most lecturers were ‘taught’, a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’,
c. teaching at the vast majority of major universities is unrewarded or under-rewarded activity.
In the USA, the persistence of lectures has led to higher education’s being Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Arum & Roksa, 2011).”

To access the complete 17 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands
President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References
which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

“Physics educators have led the way in developing and using objective tests to compare student learning gains in different types of courses, and chemists, biologists, and others are now developing similar instruments. These tests provide convincing evidence that students assimilate new knowledge more effectively in courses including active, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning, assisted by information technology, than in traditional courses.”
Wood & Gentile (2003) “Teaching in a research context”

REFERENCES [All URL’s shortened by and accessed on 29 Oct 2011.]

Hake, R.R. 2011. “Fortieth Anniversary of Donald Bligh’s What's the use of Lectures? ” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 29 Oct 2011 20:27:25-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to several academic discussion lists.

Wood, W.B., & J.M. Gentile. 2003. “Teaching in a research context,” Science 302: 1510; 28 November; online as a 209 kB pdf at

No comments: