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Uni lectures won't last: say goodbye to sages on stage

Date

Catherine Armitage

The BIG idea

So, a Sydney banker and a former footy player are cashing in by selling students' lecture notes online for $35 a set.

The Nexus Notes start-up – yes, it began in a garage – may prove a nice little earner for cash-strapped undergrads willing to trade their work. But will its window of opportunity stay open? Due diligence on lectures suggests their future lease on life is not long.

True, their death has been predicted since the Middle Ages.  As Gavin Moodie, one of our leading higher education analysts reports, the printing press was supposed to kill them off, just as it was supposed to kill off universities themselves. The contemporary claim that MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – will render to rubble our great institutions of higher learning are no different to those which greeted Gutenberg's medieval invention and persisted through the centuries. No less an intellect than Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) opined: "Lectures were once useful but now, when all can read and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary." 

As Moodie argues, MOOCs won't kill universities. The online technologies they rely on will continue to be adapted to strengthen university teaching as they have for the past two decades, and as printing technologies were for 600 years before that. But little hope is held for the standard 50-minute "sage on a stage" lecture.  The evidence, as reported by Canadian e-learning guru Tony Bates, is that, for transmitting information, such lectures are no more effective than videos, reading or independent study. But, for actual learning – so a student can understand, analyse, use and remember the information – they are ineffective. For this, the information needs to be delivered in short chunks (30 minutes, max), separated by chances to engage with the material through discussion and activities, whatever the medium.

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