Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Helping students to make the most of lectures

Formerly, when students were asked what they most wanted from lectures, many would say ‘a good set of notes’. Nowadays, in many nations students expect to get these automatically, either in the form of a photocopied handout or in terms of downloads of slides and other material from the web. Whereas in the past students would commonly spend most of class time attempting to write down material put on the blackboard, whiteboard, overhead projector or Microsoft® PowerPoint screen, this activity is now much less in evidence.

Today’s students increasingly rely on lecturer-provided materials together with their own audio recordings, often made on their phones, photos of screen shots, using mind mapping software and taking notes directly onto laptops, tablets and, again, phones.

Lecturers who want to help students could advise them to:
  • Maintain clarity about what lectures are for: help them understand that this is not a straightforward knowledge transfer process but rather an opportunity to be inspired, gain current contextual perspectives and review what could be learned from books through the lens of an educated and committed practitioner.
  • Engage actively with handouts and downloaded material immediately before, during and after lectures, rather than just relying on the material being there at revision time. This might involve setting formative tasks associated with the material so students can be confident they have taken on board key concepts and relevant information.
  • Be strict with themselves about using personal devices and electronic media, focusing only on the lecture topic.
  • Use electronic media productively to join in Twitter conversations about the lecture, Google unfamiliar terms, expressions and references.
  • Keep focused on the lecture topic, even if all around them people are losing concentration. Jotting and doodling may help, and making quick summaries is likely to be more helpful than attempting to reproduce every word you say.
  • Keep notes not so much of the content of the lecture, if this is provided elsewhere, but of their own thoughts, ideas, questions, challenges, anomalies, gaps in understanding, comparisons, and so on that occur to them during the lecture for checking later. Be proactive in lectures, constantly asking questions to themselves including ‘How does this link to material I’ve learned earlier?’, ‘What am I expected to be able to do with this material?’ and ‘How does this connect with the learning outcomes of the course?’.
  • Use constructively the opportunities for question and answer that you provide by noting queries and being ready to propose them when you solicit questions, and to forward them to you outside class if there isn’t time to answer them all within the allotted time. It makes sense for you to answer such questions collectively through a course web page or the virtual learning environment (VLE), where many more students can benefit, rather than responding privately at length to individual students.
  • Take responsibility to make up any missed lectures by reviewing and interrogating materials provided as soon as possible after the event, and checking understandings with peers and tutors.


Race, P. (2015) The Lecturer’s Toolkit, 4th edn, Abingdon: Routledge.

For more information about lectures, see Chapter 4 of Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.