Alternatives to Lectures in Higher Education
Sean Higgins
alternatives to lecture in higher education

For almost as long as formal higher education has existed, lectures have been the most common method used to teach students. However, lectures may not always be the best option because of class size, learning type, and attention spans. 

Lectures’ greatest weakness is a general lack of engagement that means students can’t really participate in learning aside from taking notes. While lectures will probably remain how most education is delivered, there are alternatives to lecture in higher education that will allow interaction and engagement with students. 

1. Questions

The simplest and easiest of teaching tools, questions work across every discipline and turn students into active learners while also helping take note of how much they understand and how interested they are. 

All it really takes is:

  • Thinking ahead and developing key questions. These can be yes/no questions, but should tend toward being open-ended. 
  • Questions that are more general-knowledge types and/or have multiple correct answers, as they encourage participation
  • Asking one question at a time
  • Giving students time to answer (especially quieter, more shy students)
  • Acknowledging and thanking students for any and all answers (without ignoring the rest of the class), again to encourage participation.  

2. Debate

Debates, whether formal or informal, encourage class participation, critical thinking, and incredibly engaging and stimulating learning. 

Educators can set up a debate by:

  • Describing the background and context of as well as reason for the debate
  • Establishing ground rules
  • (optional) Deciding on sides to the debate
  • Physically grouping the class according to their respective sides

Debates can be as informal or formal as the educator wants. It can be as formal as a televised debate would be, or as informal as someone speaking, and then anyone being allowed to counter or add onto what was said as soon as the former person was done speaking.  

3. Role play

This alternative allows students to interact, practice communication tactics, and explore issues through various lenses. Role plays usually need to be prefaced with some explanation surrounding the choice to use them, because students can frequently feel shy or weird doing them. 

Doing them really just needs:

  • A scenario and some characters or even viewpoints. These can be found from history books, news stories, or be written
  • An explanation of how and why it pertains to course material and learning
  • The background and context of the role play
  • Assignment and explanation of roles (some students can be observers who take notes, and some can form groups that play real-life groups, like a set of protestors or a homeowners’ association)
  • Ideally, a debrief at the end. 

4. Ungraded quiz

Ungraded quizzes are an easy way to allow students to participate in learning without any pressure. It’s also a simple and straightforward method for educators to gauge interest, learning, and comprehension. 

5. Field trip

And finally, field trips are excellent for sensory learning. Students can see, hear, touch, and smell for themselves the subjects that they are learning about. Museums, laboratories, factories — the possibilities are endless. If leaving the class isn’t really an option, videos, computer simulations, or virtual tours are more available than ever.


Lectures aren’t going anywhere, but education doesn’t need to be one-sided. When students can learn actively, they not only take in more information and perform better in their studies, but the experience can be a lot more enriching and satisfying for the educator as well. 


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