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close this bookDesigning Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe lecture
View the documentVisual aids
View the documentQuestion and answer
View the documentDiscussion
View the documentDemonstration
View the documentSimulation
View the documentThe case method
View the documentCritical incidents
View the documentRole-playing
View the documentInstrumentation
View the documentBrainstorming
View the documentNominal group technique (NGT)
View the documentForce field analysis
View the documentAction planning
View the documentOther learning transfer strategies
View the documentPerformance analysis & needs assessment
View the documentTraining impact evaluation
View the documentTraining the staff to train
View the documentCoaching
View the documentTeam development
View the documentRole negotiation
View the documentIntergroup conflict intervention
View the documentOrganizational goal setting
View the documentA closing note

The lecture

Learning Emphasis

Organization Focus

Hearing a learned person talk is like sitting in a spring breeze.

- Chinese Proverb

The lecture is a presentation made by an instructor to furnish information needed by a group to carry out task-relevant activities. Lectures are used to convey concepts and subject-matter details and to stimulate critical thinking. Used correctly in conjunction with other learning methods, lectures can get people informed, involved and comfortable with learning new things. When used as the sole or principal learning technique, however, the lecture is generally ineffective compared with other methods.

Lectures can produce an “I talk, you listen” expectation between teacher and participants. As students in school, we all learned what its like to be “lectured” to. When we think of the lecture, what comes to mind for most of us is a teacher we had as children in school, up there at the front of the room, speaking at length on a subject, gesturing and, perhaps, making notes on a chalkboard, while we listened patiently and took notes feverishly on everything being said. When exposed to the lecture method again, as adults, we are likely to behave the way we did as children in school - mostly passive and apathetic.

It is hard to imagine that any trainer wants passive and apathetic participants. Yet, that is the inevitable result of using the lecture as the principal teaching technique. What is the alternative? It’s not to use the lecture as an end in itself as many teachers do. Rather, the alternative is to use the lecture to support other planned activities that can stimulate participants to be actively involved in the learning process.

Lectures are more than just a way of presenting information. They can be used at the start of a programme to establish the working climate for a group, promote interest in learning and reduce participant anxiety. They may be used at any point to stimulate task-related thinking, to introduce skill practice exercises, to prevent misunderstanding or to test progress. Finally, lectures may be used at the conclusion of training to summarize important learnings and to encourage learning transfer.

In other words, the lecture is a dynamic and versatile method in the hands of a trainer who knows how to use it in an effective, participant-centred way. Effective, participant-centred lectures have three characteristics in common. First, they take into account the amount of information on a subject that a group of participants can absorb and retain at one time. Secondly, they are structured appropriately for their intended purpose. Thirdly, they employ a variety of techniques to engage participants actively in the process of learning.


People have limited short-term memories; that is, they can only absorb so much information at one time before reaching saturation. Delivering information is like pouring liquid through a funnel. If we pour too fast, the liquid will spill over the sides of the funnel, but, if we pour more slowly, we can prevent spillage, or we can stop from time to time to allow the liquid to drain before we continue. Funnels and lecturettes have much in common. If the trainer’s objectives is to achieve better performance on the job, participants must be given a chance to absorb one thing thoroughly (understand how it works, practise using it, make plans to apply it) before more information is delivered.

Another consideration in the delivery of information is the use of repetition to enhance participant retention of important points. According to Albert Mehrabian, when people are exposed to an idea one time, they retain 10 per cent or less of it after 30 days. Yet when exposed to the same idea six times, with reinforcement at intervals, their retention rate is 90 per cent after 30 days. The implication for trainers is to design lecturettes that repeat key points many times following this familiar rule of learning reinforcement:

“First, you tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em;
you tell ‘em;
and then, you tell ‘em
what you told ‘em.”

The principal message: It is better to design a lecturette that will insure the mastery and job application of just one new skill than to cover 10 skills superficially and see no result.


Lecturettes are by necessity brief and to the point. They limit the information to be presented to one or a couple of related points. Their structure consists of a provocative beginning, a convincing middle and a strong ending.

A provocative beginning to a lecturette creates interest and a desire to learn more about the subject under discussion. It is incumbent on the trainer to answer the inevitable question in the mind of every participant: “What’s in it for me if I learn this material?” This question can be answered with a brief review of (a) what the participants are being asked to learn, (b) why learning it is worthwhile and personally valuable, (c) how learning it will help them reach an important goal or overcome a major obstacle, and (d) how the activities in which they will engage will help them learn it.

Sometimes a provocative statement can be used to focus attention on the subject of a lecturette. One of the authors once began a lecturette on high-impact writing with this statement. “There are four reasons a writer ought to have his hand cut off.” This usually gets the attention of participants. No one seriously believes that anything would justify cutting off someone’s hand, but the comment gets attention and creates readiness to hear what comes next.

A convincing middle to a lecturette supports the central idea introduced at the beginning. This is the “meat” of the presentation - the substance that gives participants the basis for beginning the process of skill development or behavioural change. The most important thing to keep in mind when presenting information is the KISS principle: “Keep it simple and specific.” That means using words with which participants are familiar and avoiding ambiguous words, terms and statements that could reduce the credibility of the lecturer.

Beyond being simple and specific, there are other techniques the trainer can use to advance a central idea in a logical and persuasive way. One is to use examples or representative instances of a situation to prove or clarify a general statement. Another is to state facts which are statements about future or past conditions that can be verified by third parties or direct observation. Still another is to quote from authorities - reliable, recognized sources other than the trainer - to support a point. Statistics are a convincing way to express factual relationships in numerical terms. Anecdotes often are used as colourful illustrations of a point to be made.

The lecturette can be used in close association with many other training methods described in the tool kit. Encouraging participants to collect their thoughts and develop questions can serve as an effective review and clear up misunderstandings. Use of media, such as flip charts, overheads and films, can introduce some variety to a lecturette and improve participant understanding and information retention. Having participants read and react to handout materials related to the subject can provoke discussions with enormous learning value.

The closing to a lecturette reinforces key points and suggests how participants might use them to improve back-home performance. This is a good point in a lecturette to stop and ask participants to share, either individually or through small group discussion, the ideas they have picked up. The closing serves as a review, provides feedback on whether or not key points have been assimilated, and acts as a transition to the next activity.

For example, the trainer lecturing on how to close a lecturette might conclude this way:

“The closing to a lecturette is important to building retention and ensuring on-the-job application of new skills. You’ve experienced it here. You’ve learned about several valuable tools you can use to close your own lecturettes. You can improve the quality of your own lecturettes if you’ll just apply the techniques we have been discussing here.”


Many trainers see their role as information deliverers and not learning facilitators. Getting the message across is the main thing. These trainers often argue against participant involvement because they fear it will lessen their control over the training process. In fact, it is sometimes argued that time is too short and that there is too much material to cover to allow participation.

What is the trainer’s task? Is it simply to cover the material, or is it to enable participants to perform on the job? It has been said that people will tend to support what they help to create. Applied to training, participants can be expected to accept something and believe in it, if they have been given an opportunity to talk about it and try it out first-hand for themselves. This does not happen just by hearing the trainer talk about it. Acceptance and belief require first-hand involvement - experiential learning. The trainer must function not only as a presenter of content but as a catalyst for significant participant involvement in the learning process.

There are several ways a trainer can use the lecturette at the start of a programme to get a group of participants involved in their own learning. One way is to have them identify their expectations for the programme by completing statements like,

“The best thing that could happen for me as a result of my participation in this programme is....”

Another is to have participants identify personally with the subject of the lecturette by completing a sentence about it. In a programme on stress management, they might be asked, for example, to finish this sentence:

“Stress is....”

Still other experiential techniques might be used by a trainer in conjunction with lecturettes at any point in a training programme. One is to have participants think of and discuss situations which they know about or have experienced personally in order to illustrate a statement like this one:

“A manager may be required to use different styles with different employees.”

Another technique a trainer might use in a lecturette is to have participants say, in their own words, what they heard the trainer say about a subject. For example, the trainer might ask a question:

“How can communication reduce stress?”

The trainer would then supply the answer. This would be followed by appropriate follow-up questions that participants would be expected to answer.

The trainer might embellish a lecturette with other participant-involving techniques. One is to have participants interview one another on a particular topic or point from the lecturette and report their findings and/or conclusions. Another is to give participants handout materials that review and summarize the key points covered in a lecturette.

Experiential techniques can be useful to the trainer in closing a programme. These might include having participants develop a list of questions about something covered in a lecturette, and then, working in small groups, having them prepare some questions to ask the trainer. Also, the trainer might ask participants to make a personal commitment to themselves or to another member of the group to begin using a new skill or behaviour discussed in a lecturette on returning to the work environment. Examples of other techniques for back-home application of learning are presented elsewhere in the tool kit.


The lecturette is the most important method available to a trainer to convey information and ideas to a group of participants. Successful lecturettes are carefully planned with three considerations in mind. First, they are brief, focused on a few key ideas and paced to deliver information in “bite sized” chunks. Secondly, they are carefully designed to include provocative beginnings, convincing middles and strong endings. Thirdly, lecturettes provide participants with an opportunity to be actively involved in their own learning.