Teaching Experts: Active versus Passive, Part 4

I may be obsessing a little with the possibility that passive learning in the form of extended lectures may be the right instructional play in some situations (versus more active learning). Why devote so much mental energy when the clear consensus in the field is that active beats passive?

The issue is one of efficiency and limited resources. Beautiful, highly interactive instruction takes significant time both to design and to deliver. If there are situations where I can achieve the same objectives with a two-hour lecture that I can with a four-hour interactive deep dive into case studies, then I have a fiduciary responsibility to my company to do so.

But what’s the right decision model? How can I know when lecture is likely to be good enough? Ruth Clark suggests at least three factors are in play: expertise, self-regulation, and learning objectives.

With expertise, the idea is that relative experts need less interactivity in order to make connections and are better able to chunk information in order to keep cognitive overload minimized. It would be nice to be able to define this more precisely, though. We don’t even have a common vocabulary to reliably describe someone’s level of expertise in a subject.

Self-regulation, or the ability to use strategies to focus yourself on learning and away from distractions, obviously matters, and may correlate with expertise since achieving expertise generally requires a high degree of self-regulation.

As for aligning with learning objectives, Clark suggests that covering information can be done with lectures, particularly if the lecture is well-designed and cognizant of learning principles. Moving up Bloom’s taxonomy, though, requires active learning.


2 thoughts on “Teaching Experts: Active versus Passive, Part 4

  1. Tanika

    This is a highly informative post that clearly demonstrates an effective designer’s duty to create instruction based on how well the participants will learn the material and not on the personal preference of the designer.

    1. robertmulcahy Post author

      Thank you, Tanika. I believe it is healthy, and probably inevitable, for instructional designers to have an individual style and a set of preferences, but we have to be eager to gather evidence and continue our professional development in order to evolve our style and beliefs over time. The more we know about why we are drawn to certain paths, the better we can defend our positions.


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