Advantages and disadvantages of lectures
* Effective lecturers can communicate the intrinsic interest of a subject through their enthusiasm.
* Lectures can be specifically organized to meet the needs of particular audiences.
* Lectures can present large amounts of information.
* Lectures can be presented to large audiences.
* Lecturers can model how professionals work through disciplinary questions or problems.
* Lectures allow the instructor maximum control of the learning experience.
* Lectures present little risk for students.
* Lectures appeal to those who learn by listening.
* Lectures fail to provide instructors with feedback about the extent of student learning.
* In lectures, students are often passive because there is no mechanism to ensure that they are intellectually engaged with the material.
* Students’ attention wanes quickly after fifteen to twenty-five minutes.
* Information tends to be forgotten quickly when students are passive.
* Lectures presume that all students learn at the same pace and are at the same level of understanding.
* Lectures are not suited for teaching higher orders of thinking such as application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation; for teaching motor skills, or for influencing attitudes or values.
* Lectures are not well suited for teaching complex, abstract material.
* Lectures requires effective speakers.
* Lectures emphasize learning by listening, which is a disadvantage for students who have other learning styles.
Slightly adapted from http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/nise/CL1/CL/doingcl/advlec.htm
Looking at the list of advantages shows a clear place for lectures. For example, members of the general public voluntarily attending a lecture on, say, genetic engineering or art appreciation. The audience need not take notes and will not be assessed on the content so the teaching need not be especially effective. Furthermore, such a self-motivated audience is probably receptive to inspiration by the lecturer.
Students attending lectures as part of a course of study are significantly different. There is probably a greater diversity of learning styles than in the audience attending a lecture out of interest. Undoubtedly, lectures will suit some students but it would be wrong to assume that all (or even most) of the students were motivated intrinsically by the material or by the inspirational style of the lecturer! (To believe this would be to ignore a huge body of evidence on personality, learning style and the factors that drive course/subject selection). Furthermore, the assessment requirements significantly determine the learning process. In these cases, the disadvantages of lectures loom large so that, for many materials, lectures are probably not the vehicle of choice.
These lists of advantages and disadvantages rely on a fairly narrow view of lectures and it is possible to increase the interactivity of lectures and (at least partially) overcome some of the disadvantages. But, in the end, the prevalence of lectures probably has less to do with learning and more to do with the efficiency (time, cost) of lectures, the familiarity of the format to teachers (probably a function of teachers’ learning styles) and time-efficiency of preparing them that sees them so broadly applied.