Eric Mazur, a professor of Physics at Harvard has been working on rethinking the lecture for two decades now:

Taking active learning seriously means revamping the entire teaching/learning enterprise—even turning it inside out or upside down. For example, active learning overthrows the “transfer of information” model of instruction, which casts the student as a dry sponge who passively absorbs facts and ideas from a teacher. This model has ruled higher education for 600 years, since the days of the medieval Schoolmen who, in their lectio mode, stood before a room reading a book aloud to the assembly—no questions permitted. The modern version is the lecture.

It’s incredible to think how little education has changed in 6 centuries. With many textbooks providing professors a PowerPoint that outlines each chapter, it might as well be someone standing at the front of the class reading from the book.

As Kyle Baxter pointed out, knowledge transfer is essentially becoming commodity today, so the question is how a teacher can add value. The concept of returning to how we learn in grade school, with active participation and activities is fascinating.

The problem I always come back to is that school teaches us to take tests and write papers – we don’t learn to actually do what our jobs will entail. We need to shift from a model of read book » listen to lecture » take test to something that actively involves the students and helps them absorb and apply what they learn, and Eric has spend two decades proving it.