Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of learning and teaching in medicine

Teaching large groups

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 22 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:437
  1. Peter Cantillon

    Lecturing or large group teaching is one of the oldest forms of teaching. Whatever their reputation, lectures are an efficient means of transferring knowledge and concepts to large groups. They can be used to stimulate interest, explain concepts, provide core knowledge, and direct student learning.

    However, they should not be regarded as an effective way of teaching skills, changing attitudes, or encouraging higher order thinking. Large group formats tend to encourage passive learning. Students receive information but have little opportunity to process or critically appraise the new knowledge offered.

    A lecturer holds forth …

    How can lectures be used to maximise learning and provide opportunities for student interaction? This article will supply some of the answers and should help you to deliver better, more interactive lectures.

    Getting your bearings

    It is important to find out as much as possible about the context of the lecture—that is, where it fits into the course of which it is part.

    What you need to know before planning a lecture

    • How your lecture fits into the students' course or curriculum

    • The students' knowledge of your subject—try to get a copy of the lecture and tutorial list for the course

    • How the course (and your lecture) will be assessed

    • The teaching methods that the students are accustomed to

    An understanding of the context will allow you to prepare a lecture that is both appropriate and designed to move students on from where they are.

    Helping students to learn in lectures

    An important question for any lecturer to consider when planning a teaching session is, “how can I help my students to learn during my lecture?” There are several different techniques you can use to aid student learning in a large group setting.

    The successful teacher is no longer on a height, pumping knowledge at high pressure into passive receptacles … he is a senior student anxious to help his juniors.

    William Osler (1849–1919) …

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