We all agree on two things about lectures: They'll always be used, and they encourage passive learning. Here's a strategy you can pass on to faculty so they can enliven their lectures. I've long used the lecturing technique described here (with the unfortunate name of programmed lecture, or PL) because it defeats passive learning by encouraging audience members to become actively involved. The technique, which was first described a quarter century ago by Phil Manning, is easy to use and wonderfully effective.

As a skillful, self-directed learner, you're asking yourself two questions just now: What's involved? and How does it work? The steps in putting on a PL will answer your first question, and you'll answer the second as you read the following example.

Running a Programmed Lecture 1. Construct a handout, alternating questions you will ask the audience to answer with room for them to write their answers and places for them to take notes as you lecture--that is, as you expand on their answers to the question.

2. Distribute the handout and tell the learners not to answer the questions until you ask them to. At the point in your talk where the first question is appropriate, give them a minute to answer it in writing on their handouts.

4. Ask people to volunteer their answers, recording each answer verbatim on the board. Accept only one answer from any given learner.

5. When you have a handful of answers to the question on the board, use them to structure the next part of your talk.

6. Repeat steps 2 to 4 when you reach each point in your talk where a question on the handout is appropriate.

As you can see, the central feature of a PL is using learners' answers to each question to structure the talk. The lecturer does this by asking a question of the audience, recording their answers so all can see them, and then incorporating the answers into the next few minutes of the lecture. If I were to give a talk titled How to Lecture, for example, the first question on my handout might be: What are the major drawbacks of lecturing? This is a good PL question because learners can answer it on the basis of their experiences. This is critical since learners will not become active if they're asked to attempt things they cannot do.

The Audience Has the Answers Two other things are critically important. The first is that learners must write out their answers to each question; this makes them active because they (1) have to think about their answers, (2) decide what to write, (3) write out the answer, and then (4) make certain they're satisfied with what they've written. The second critical feature is that when people volunteer their answers, the answers must be transcribed verbatim onto the board. There are two related reasons for this: The lecturer's rephrasing what the learner says suggests that the learner didn't quite get it right (which has a chilling effect on those who might otherwise wish to contribute), and the learner who volunteered the answer no longer feels a sense of ownership of it.

Returning to the example of a talk on How to Lecture, my notes include a list of lecture drawbacks, of course, and I check off those that were volunteered by the learners. I then begin talking about lecturing's drawbacks using the learners' list on the board, working through them until they're exhausted, and then adding mine as appropriate. When I need clarification for the items on the board, or when the points I want to make relate to those items, I call on the people in the audience who volunteered them. The result is that the lecture begins to look like a discussion--even though I maintain control over both the content and the rate at which it is covered.