How to Teach: Lecture vs. Discussion

WHEN ONLY A LECTURE WILL DO: 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 should 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 trainer 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 trainers.

HANDLING A LECTURE: In handling a lecture, you must get attention, maintain interest and eye contact, and watch for audience reaction. In a group discussion, on the other hand, the object is to avoid allowing your ego to impede the flow of ideas. It is hard to relinquish control of the discussion when it moves away from the points you most want to make. This is especially difficult for individuals who feel so strongly about a subject that they tend to force opinions on others. Obvious attempts to steer the discussion in one direction will be seen as manipulative, and this may lead the participants to "turn off" to the entire process.

PURPOSES OF GROUP DISCUSSIONS: Starting a discussion indicates that you want to broaden the interaction between the group and yourself and share the responsibility for the learning experience. Although you lose some of the personal control over the learning situation that you exercise as the instructor, you gain overall training effectiveness by stimulating interest in the exploration of new ideas and solutions. By engaging their emotions and interest, you encourage the trainees to personalize the ideas and concepts produced by the group. You create a situation where the experience has emotional resonance and individual memories, making it more easily and readily retained. The trainees will take the learning experience from the group into their outside employment situation. In short, you will be able to create a learning environment which is most conducive to behavior change.

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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.


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