Deep Thoughts on “Lectures” and the Learning Pyramid

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Ever since I can remember, I have been told that “lectures” are the worst way to for students to learn. I saw a great presentation recently that highlighted the learning pyramid and talked about lectures at the top of that pyramid. For this and many other reasons, lectures have gotten a bad reputation.

The trick is what is meant by “lecture.”

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Essentially, when you look at the pyramid, you see that audio-visuals, demonstrations, and discussions are among the techniques that enhance learning. However, I would argue that great presentations incorporate all of these techniques, and in the right settings, can even get to practice and having students teach other. I think that “lectures” in this setting represent the extreme of purely regurgitating (likely in a monotonous tone) information from a text to the learners. To further emphasize this point, Issa, et. al. has published two papers in the past 2 years showing both short term and long term learning and retention benefits using educational design principles in the presentation.

So, the way I look at it is like this: Presentations can have a range of effectiveness and it is up to us to break the “curse” of the pyramid and make great presentations that optimize learning and retention.


Issa, et. al. “Applying Multimedia Design Principles Enhances Learning in Medical Education.” Medical Education. 2011;45:818-26

Issa, et. al. “Teaching for Understanding in Medical Classrooms Using Multimedia Design Principles.” Medical Education. 2013;47:388-96


When I was growing up, my grandmother would occasionally say, “I’m gonna learn you [insert something I needed to know here].” It’s with that story that I emphasize to my students that learning is not done to others, it is a process that is experienced and leads to a change in behavior, knowledge, or understanding.

Two of my favorite quotes on learning:

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” -Albert Einstein

Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” – Herbert Simon