I have to say that as a student I HATED working in small groups with other students. Absolutely hated it. Except for science labs, I never saw the point and never thought I learned a thing from it. I wanted to learn from somebody who knew more about the subject than I did, not listen to my peers natter on about their own ill-informed opinions. I liked seminars, because I liked talking to my professors, but mainly I took lecture courses. I loved them. And I learned a vast amount in college. Looking back from 30 years later, I find that I remember a lot of very specific things from my lectures, but only one thing springs to my mind from a discussion section. (A debate about the origins of the Peloponnesian War, for certain readers who may also remember it.) I just asked my college student daughter whether she preferred lectures or discussions and she answered, "Discussion classes were invented by Satan to give stupid, ignorant people a chance to voice their opinions."
High school teacher Abigail Walthausen has a little article on the Atlantic defending the lecture as a teaching technique:
As a college student, I was often advised by well-meaning adults to sign-up for seminars rather than lectures in order to get “face time.” To be perfectly honest, though, the lecture format, far more than the noisy seminar, enabled me to think deeply about a topic rather than being distracted by poorly planned and redundant comments from peers (often aggravated by a teacher who is reluctant, for fear of being too top-down in terms of pedagogy, to deflect them). Besides frustration with the dominant participants in many a seminar class, I have also wasted time distracted by the anxiety that I had to race others to an appropriate comment in order to accumulate those necessary class participation points.Like Walthausen, I did a lot of great thinking sitting in dim lecture halls. Lecturing is not enough -- people also need practice speaking and writing and doing things, but I still think reading and listening are great ways to learn. As Walthausen notes, TED talks are enormously popular. My dropout sons are among the millions of people who encounter mind-stretching ideas mainly at the TED web site, and they regularly tell me about cool talks they have heard.
I have a feeling that if we really understood this we would see that students are all different, and that some learn best with one method and some with another. That, after all, is the way most things work.
In my own teaching I try to mix lecturing with class discussion, typically about half of each. While I am lecturing I show lots of pictures, because I am an intensely visual person and can't remember what I can't visualize. So far this format has worked pretty well for me.
I am certainly not ready to give up on lecturing, and I was glad to read Walthausen's defense.