Learn Now, Lecture Later: A Fundamental Classroom Shift

GUEST COLUMN | by Andy Lausch

“Change is the only constant,” the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said in 470 B.C.  This is especially true on college campuses today, where lectures are evolving to capture student interest and keep pace with the prevalence of technology in students’ personal lives. Students want to use more technology in class, and to support this desire, faculty are shifting away from the traditional lecture model, according to CDW-G’s new Learn Now, Lecture Later report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 high school and college students, faculty, and IT professionals.

Students said they want a greater mix of learning models, with less lecture and more direct interaction – and they reported that classroom time is moving in the right direction.  “I learn more and get more out of my educational experience when we use multiple methods,” said one student surveyed by CDW-G.

Students say technology will help them take ownership of their educational experience and will help them transition to the workforce.  Their belief in the power of technology is reflective of what is happening in our everyday lives.  It is not uncommon to see students using several devices at once – everything from MP3 players to tablets and laptops to smartphones.  Given the remarkable pace at which technological progress has transformed our society, it was only a matter of time before students and professors expected similar, transformational change in the classroom.  One faculty member said, “The technology is all out there, and the students live in it 24/7, so integrating it into the classroom is a win-win.”

More than 50 percent of faculty members say they have incorporated more hands-on projects and group projects into their instruction in the last two years. More than 30 percent say they have included use of independent research and distance or virtual learning. Students appreciate the diversity: “I often got bored during traditional lectures where the teacher would just talk for the full class period,” said one student. “When we watch videos online or do hands-on projects I learn the material better and retain the information long term.”

Many faculty members agree that hands-on learning serves students better than the traditional lecture model.  One noted, “Based on John Dewey’s teaching/learning philosophy of ‘learning by doing,’ students who build on their own learning according to their individual learning style will permanently learn the subject matter.”

But the shift to newer learning models and more technology isn’t without its difficulties; 88 percent of faculty members see challenges in moving away from the traditional lecture format, including large class sizes, lack of time and lack of professional development. In the last two years, 76 percent of IT professionals say they received increased faculty requests for help with technology integration and related professional development. Faculty members are asking for everything from training on specific technologies in their classrooms to opportunities to share best practices with peers.  In addition to faculty training, 87 percent of IT professionals say their institutions will need to improve their IT infrastructure to support greater technology use in the classroom.

Technology can support and enhance the idea of learning now and lecturing later, and it can give students the tools for an educational experience that less than 20 years ago was not possible. Most of us could not imagine our lives without technology, and so we would not imagine today’s students’ education without it.  Institutions wanting to make the shift to new learning models can start by determining what technology faculty and students already have, how they want to use it in class, and how they best learn and teach. It is important to work closely with faculty to meet their subject-area and curriculum needs, and to enable IT and faculty to share what they learn about technology integration and new learning models. Finally, the importance of professional development for faculty and IT infrastructure improvements cannot be overlooked. Faculty must be supported and comfortable with the shift, or change will be slow, and without an adequate IT backbone, change may not happen at all.

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Andy Lausch is vice president of higher education at CDW-G. 

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