A Comparison of Short Term and Long Term Retention: Lecture Combined with Discussion versus Cooperative Learning

Article excerpt

A comparison of teaching techniques in an introductory college-level course revealed lecture combined with discussion produced superior short-term retention than that of cooperative learning in participating students. However, minimal differences were noted in long-term. While the investigation involved a limited number of students, the results do suggest a need for additional studies on a larger scale. Suggestions for improvement of instruction with each of these techniques are reviewed.

With an added emphasis on improving outcomes in higher education, the skilled professor continually searches for effective instructional procedures. Although often maligned, the lecture is a traditional, common, and familiar teaching technique. A lecture is a well-prepared oral presentation on a topic by a qualified person. It is often combined with another popular teaching strategy, discussion. The many different definitions of discussion as a learning tool include three basic elements: (a) a group of people (b) brought together for face to face oral communication (c) to share knowledge or make a decision (Bormann, 1975; Kahler, Morgan, Holmes, & Bundy, 1985).

Content drives some discussions (Kasulis, 1984). Characteristic of these discussions is a teacher who introduces concepts or the structures learning of new information. Discussions within formal classrooms are often of this type. Participant sharing of insights or experiences is another discussion technique (Segerstrale, 1984). The teacher encourages exchange of information and does not attempt to dominate the interaction. In the third type of discussion, the group analyzes a problem or completes an assigned task (Wilkinson, 1984). The task provides direction to the group discussion.

Cooperative learning is a method touted by many as an effective instructional alternative to improve academic performance to competitive learning or individualistic learning (Johnson, & Johnson, 1980). Typically, cooperative learning involves arranging opportunities for small groups of students to work together to master material (Moorman, 1994). More specifically, students demonstrate positive interdependence in creating a single product. Individual accountability is also expected during cooperative learning lessons.

Research dedicated to the individual teaching strategies of lecture and discussion in higher education is expansive. However, research focusing on the relationship between these two often-combined strategies is limited. The present study compares college student performance using two instructional formats, lecture combined with discussion versus cooperative learning.

Method

Participants and Settings

During the 1997 fall semester, the researchers evaluated traditional college student (aged 18 to 24 years) performance in an introductory special education class. At the beginning of the semester, the 10 members of the class were given the opportunity to participate in the study. The students had not received prior instruction in the course content. During the course of the study, the students did not take parallel courses.

Measurement System

The investigators established a measurement system to compare the effects of lecture combined discussion versus cooperative learning. Using guidelines suggested by Oosterhof (1996), multiple-choice tests assessed concepts presented during each class. The tests had a total possibility of forty correct answers (twenty responses focusing on topics presented through lecture combined with discussion, twenty responses addressing subjects presented through cooperative learning). Addressing the concepts presented through lecture combined with discussion and cooperative learning, the forty multiple-choice questions were randomly presented to the students. The same achievement tests were administered at the beginning and end of the class session in which the interventions were applied. …

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