Re-envisioning Lectures

Engage Students During Presentations

While lecturing can be an effective way to convey knowledge, presenting information to students does not ensure learning. Many factors can play a role in how students process and make sense of information, such as depth and breadth of the lecture, its organization, and visual design of slides and other media.


To design lectures for optimal learning, follow these steps:

1. Define the role of the lecture, and design accordingly. Is the purpose to familiarize? To facilitate deep understanding? To inspire or stimulate interest? Answers to these questions inform the overall format of the lecture and decisions about breadth versus depth (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).

2. Organize for clarity. Use chunking, information mapping techniques, and advance organizers to help students understand the context, relationships, and relevance of the knowledge you are conveying (Ausubel, 1960; Sweller, 1988).

3. Embed activities in the lecture. Activities such as diagnostic quizzes, discussions, or polls—when carefully designed and focused on learning objectives—can allow you to reveal students’ prior knowledge and monitor comprehension while facilitating learning (Bloom, Hasting, & Madaus, 1971).

4. Emphasize key points. To make sure the most important information stands out, repeat important points and avoid visual clutter on slides and other media (Rosenholtz, Li, Mansfield, & Jin, 2005).


Ausubel, David P. (1960). The use of advance organizers in the learning and retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 51(5), 267-272.

Bloom B.S., Hastings J.T., & Madaus, G. (Eds.) (1971) Handbook on formative and summative evaluation of student learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rosenholtz, R., Li, Y., Mansfield, J., & Jin, Z. (2005, April). Feature congestion: a measure of display clutter. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 761-770). ACM.

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.

Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd Ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.