A comparison of traditional and engaging lecture methods in a large, professional-level course

Adv Physiol Educ. 2013 Dec;37(4):347-55. doi: 10.1152/advan.00050.2013.


In engaging lectures, also referred to as broken or interactive lectures, students are given short periods of lecture followed by "breaks" that can consist of 1-min papers, problem sets, brainstorming sessions, or open discussion. While many studies have shown positive effects when engaging lectures are used in undergraduate settings, the literature surrounding use of the learning technique for professional students is inconclusive. The novelty of this study design allowed a direct comparison of engaging physiology lectures versus didactic lecture formats in the same cohort of 120 first-year School of Dentistry DMD students. All students were taught five physiological systems using traditional lecture methods and six physiological systems using engaging lecture methods. The use of engaging lectures led to a statistically significant higher average on unit exams compared with traditional didactic lectures (8.6% higher, P < 0.05). Furthermore, students demonstrated an improved long-term retention of information via higher scores on the comprehensive final exam (22.9% higher in engaging lecture sections, P < 0.05). Many qualitative improvements were also indicated via student surveys and evaluations, including an increased perceived effectiveness of lectures, decrease in distractions during lecture, and increased confidence with the material. The development of engaging lecture activities requires a significant amount of instructor preparation and limits the time available to provide traditional lectures. However, the positive results of this study suggest the need for a restructuring of the physiology curriculum to incorporate more engaging lectures to improve both the qualitative experiences and performance levels of professional students.

Keywords: active learning; engaging lectures; large classes; student motivation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Kentucky
  • Learning
  • Physiology / education
  • Schools, Dental
  • Students
  • Teaching*