You may have heard some buzz recently about microlectures or mini-lectures. Here’s The Innovative Instructor’s scoop on the topic.

Microlectures are just what they sound like – short, focused discourses on specific topics. If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, you’ve experienced a microlecture. The classic TED talk is 18 minutes or shorter, and the speaker concentrates on developing a single big idea.  Another example of the microlecture can be found in the Khan Academy model. The Khan Academy website boasts a library of videos covering “…K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and …humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.”

Students in class room raising hands.

What does this have to do with you and your teaching approach? Research has shown that a student’s attention span during lectures decreases after fifteen minutes [Wankat, P., The Effective Efficient Professor: Teaching, Scholarship and Service, Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MA, 2002]. Once you lecture past that time, students retain significantly less information. [Hartley, J., and Davies, I., “Note Taking: A Critical Review,” Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 1978, Vol. 15, pp. 207–224.] Hartley and Davies suggested that breaking up a lecture into smaller segments could help keep students engaged.

One way to integrate microlectures into your face-to-face teaching is to intersperse short periods of lecturing  with active learning activities. These exercises will reinforce the material you’ve just presented.

Even if you have a large enrollment for your course, it is possible to implement active learning strategies. A quick method is “Pair-Share.” After presenting in a microlecture format, have your students pair off and discuss a question you pose to test their comprehension of the material just covered. Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, has written and presented (see his talk, Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative 2012 Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences) on using active learning, and pair-share exercises, in large courses.

The Educause Learning Initiative recently published a short tip sheet on microlectures that are recorded for students to use outside of the classroom: 7 Things You Should Know about Microlectures.  This two page PDF document addresses recording microlectures for hybrid or “flipped” class settings (where the recorded lecture is viewed by students outside of regular class time), but contains advice that will be useful in fully face-to-face learning environments as well.

If you are interested in learning more about active learning strategies and how you can integrate these into your teaching, perhaps in conjunction with microlectures, you can get a jump start by reading the article, Active Learning: An Introduction [Felder, R.M. and Brent, R., 2009, ASQ Higher Education Brief, 2(4), 1-5].  This is an introduction to active learning that includes frequently asked questions about what you can do and what you can get your students to do.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art