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Altrernatives to the Lecture Format: Group Discussion
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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How often do you use lectures as your sole training technique? Nearly always? Often? It’s not unusual for presentors to use the lecture technique exclusively. After all, this is what we have all seen and are familiar with. The format is easily mastered, and innovation may not seem necessary when the traditionally accepted technique garners no complaints. Unfortunately, while there are several conditions under which a lecture may be useful to the presentor, for several reasons it is not a very effective tool for changing behavior in trainees.

The format requires that trainees receive information passively, without reciprocal involvement. This tends to make trainees feel like children. In fact, this is the precise connotation that the word “lecture” calls up — an authority figure addressing children. The structure of the lesson is therefore instructor-centered rather than trainee-centered.

The efficacy of the lecture also suffers from its long history—lectures are expected to be boring. Very few speakers have either training in public speech or theatre, and most lecturers, no matter how hard they try, move slowly toward either monotone or singsong patterns as they settle in. Hearing is a sense that seems to demand constant change — without it, any repetitive tone dissolves into background music. Even the addition of static visual aids helps very little—the human eye is capable of seeing, recognizing, processing, and ultimately tiring of simplistic visual stimulation with surprising speed.

Unless the presentor can make his material unusually interesting, something that few of us accomplish consistently, the constant stream of words will become monotonous to trainees. When there is no room for active participation, it is very difficult for trainees to maintain an adequate attention level. Finally, just as the term “lecture” suggests, there is no room for “back talk.” In a lecture format, any trainee’s expression of a different point of view on a subject matter is simply seen as disruptive or rude. The more controversial (and therefore interesting) questions will be turned aside without adequate attention.

Under certain circumstances, of course, the lecture is the only workable format. For instance, when it is necessary to reach a large audience in a short time frame, or when the attendees have no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, there is really no choice. But whenever possible, alternative methods must be investigated. If you choose to rely solely on lectures, be aware that you do so for your own convenience and comfort, rather than for the effectiveness of the training.

Abandoning the lecture format for that of group discussion requires that the presentor step back from leadership and take up the role of facilitator — a position much closer to that of the participant. If this method of training is one that you would like to explore, it is first necessary to examine potential problems which make group discussions difficult for some presentors.


Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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