Lectures in Experience-Based Learning - Will They Go the Way of the Dinosaur?

Lectures have been the "whipping boy" of educational reformers for well over a hundred years. Challenges to the effectiveness of traditional approaches to education begin with castigating the passive nature of the lecture process.

Proponents of discovery learning and experience-based learning and student-centered learning and inquiry communities all point to the picture of students all over the world sleeping peacefully in their seats while the lecturer drones on and on. This, they say, is hard evidence of the need for a different approach.

Granted we now know active participation on the part of the learner makes learning possible. Brain research indicates what educational reformers have believed for decades is true - passive learning is hardly optimal. To many, nothing better epitomizes passive education than the lecture method.

However, is it conceivable for a good teacher to infuse some principles of experience-based learning into a traditional lecture? Here are four ingredients that might make this possible:

• Passion
• Engagement
• Relevance
• Transference

Passionate Presentations

A lecture that appears to be boring to the teacher delivering the message will certainly be boring to the students. Most teachers are passionate about their subject matter. Infusing a lecture presentation with energy and enthusiasm is contagious. Great storytellers throughout history not only have great stories to tell, they tell them in great ways.

Social and Emotional Engagement

Passionate presentations invite emotional engagement from students. If it appears to them you as a teacher care deeply about the content you are presenting you open the door to their interest and engagement. Humor and stories of your own real-life experiences regarding the content of the lecture lay the foundation for two of the most important components of experience-based learning - relevance and transference.


It can be difficult for learners of any subject to relate to an idea or a concept in the abstract. However, sharing personal experiences of how the subject matter has been relevant in your own life or in that of some other real person invites consideration of how the content might be relevant in each of your students' lives.


Although using questioning techniques to open up a dialogue with students is appropriate at many points in an experience-based lecture, tapping into higher-level thinking of creating something new is critical. Invite your students to reflect on how they might make use of what you are teaching in their own daily lives. Nothing stimulates creative thinking like envisioning how abstract ideas or concepts might be put to use in meaningful ways.

Transforming lecture notes from a mode of passive delivery to an active, experience-based delivery is not easy. It requires reflection on your own personal experiences and the experience base of each student in the class. Few humans can resist a good story. Stories are rooted in a multitude of personal experiences. A good story invites listeners to compare and contrast their own experience with that of the characters in the story.

If you are truly interested in infusing experience-based learning into your lectures, start with the mind of a storyteller.