ISSN : 2241-4665
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ISSN : 2241-4665
Ημερομηνία έκδοσης: Αθήνα 13 Ιανουαρίου 2014
Athens 13 January 2014
Lectures Versus Learning Theories : a Case Study of the UFR of Economics and Management of Université Félix Houphouët Boigny
Ettien Assoa, lecturer at IREEP/SHS/ Université Félix Houphouët Boigny
This study aims at making a humble contribution to the debates on the relevance of lectures in use in most African and international universities, at this era of information technology in which knowledge is available for all.
Indeed, slightly more than half (59%) of currently registered students at the UFR of economics and management of Université Félix Houphouët Boigny assert not only to dislike lectures, but also not to be able to understand them, in spite of their great number at these lectures.
Ignoring this poor interest for their lectures, teachers, devoted and motivated, are always at work, but their effort is not given its due value. We hope that this work, which offers an occasion to review learning theories, will be a source of collective thoughts that will lead to a constructive change for better learning.
Cette étude vise à apporter sa modeste contribution aux débats sur la pertinence des cours magistraux en vigueur dans la plupart des universités africaines et internationales, à cette ère des technologies de l’information où le savoir est à la portée de tous.
En effet, plus de la moitié (59%) des étudiants inscrits à l’UFR des sciences économiques et de gestion de l’Université Félix Houphouët Boigny affirment non seulement ne pas aimer les cours magistraux, mais aussi, qu’ils ont du mal à les comprendre, malgré leur grand nombre à ces cours..
Ignorant ce peu d’intérêt pour leurs cours, les enseignants, dévoués et motivés, sont tous les jours à la tâche sans que leurs efforts soient appréciés à sa juste valeur. Nous espérons que ce travail qui nous replonge dans les théories d’apprentissage suscitera la réflexion collective, en vue d’un changement constructif pour un meilleur apprentissage.
Appeared for the first time in the fourteenth century with the first medieval universities, lectures are the most widespread teaching methods in most universities today. Indeed, in the fourteenth century the term lecture used to mean at the same time ‘’the fact of reading’’ and “what was read”. It was only in the sixteenth century that it took the meaning of an oral discourse read in front of a group of individuals for the instruction sake. (Michael Bassey, 1968).
For Annie Bruter (2013), the lecture is a teaching method in which a teacher delivers his knowledge before a public. We believe that there was no better way to share knowledge at that time when printing was not fully developed. Indeed, at that time, books were so few that advising individual reading could mean preventing the majority from having access to knowledge.
As for Donald Bligh( 2000)for whom lecturing in neither better, nor worse than other teaching methods, he definitely admitted that lectures are certainly not the best teaching method for the promotion of thinking and behavior change. This is the reason why he advises that lectures should not exceed twenty five minutes. For him, beyond that time, the attention of auditors will experience a decrease. However, a change of activity such as a short brake for group discussions can raise back the attention of auditors.
Aka Adou (2004) characterizes the lecture as a dogmatic teaching method in which the magister who is supposed to have knowledge delivers this knowledge to students who are supposed to know nothing. This image is so real that, learners’ participation in their lectures is quite inexistent. Neither is the natural interaction between teacher and learners. This is exactly what Marguerite Altet (1994) calls a teacher-centered monologue, but coherent, which does neither take learners’ feed backs into consideration, nor does it utilize their interactions.
At Université Félix Houphouët Boigny, mainly at the UFR of economics and management, lectures are delivered by the most qualified and experienced teachers. This is briefly an idea of lectures, subject of the present research. We are now going to see the rational for this study.
Today, with the development of information technologies, we are expecting modern teachers to use other teaching methods, but what is happening in our universities worldwide? Many teachers are still using the same and old teaching method: lectures. The whole university communities, except some few who are specialized in education, seem to find nothing wrong with lectures. However, a careful observation enables us to realize that learners’ motivation for lectures is progressively decreasing.
Furthermore, some employers seem to prefer graduates from other institutions of higher education to university graduates who are said to have a training which is too theoretical. Does such an assertion have a scientific basis? Are the theories that were used to justify the rational of lectures still valid today? What do students think of lectures? These few questions are the essential of our research questions.
1.2 Purpose of the Study
This study aims at the following objectives:
1.2.1 General Objective
The present research aims at understanding the core of lectures at Université Félix Houphouët Boigny as far as learning theories are concerned.
1.2.2 Specific Objectives
Our hypotheses consist of a general hypothesis and specific hypotheses.
2.1 General Hypothesis
Our general hypothesis that justifies this study is the following: “A great number of students at Université Félix Houphouët Boigny do not like lectures and even believe that they contribute to their failure:”
2.2 Specific Hypothesis
The above general hypothesis generated the following specific hypotheses:
Here, we need to assess the lecture as a teaching method in the light of existing learning theories. What are these learning theories and how can they contribute to our research questions?
3.1 Main Learning theories
The literature on learning theories consists of a tremendous number of theories among which are : behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, Holistic Learning theory, Facilitation Theory Experiential Learning Theory etc.
Behaviorism appears as the psychology of human behavior. It is based on the careful observation of learners’ reactions, learners’ behavior when they are facing certain situations and stimuli. Contrary to some sources which attribute its fatherhood to Watson (1878-1958), the Russian Psychologist Ivan Pavlov (1840-1936) was the first one to experience this learning theory. The American psychologists John Broadus Watson and Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) ensured the spreading of behavioral ideas through their tremendous contribution. It is important to note that Watson was the one who brought behaviorism to the rest of the world.
Behaviorism appeared in the early twentieth century. It was based on the principles that “the shaping of individual’s behavior is conditioned by the influence of the external environment.” In clearer terms, it is the individuals’ response to a given stimuli that leads to a change in behavior.
Behaviorists understand learning as a change in behavior. Similarly, for behaviorists, “learning is the acquisition of new behavior based on environment conditions”. Learning is also ‘’ an objectively observable behavior” (D.C. Phillips& Jonas F. Soltis, 2003).
Cognitivism appeared as the very first contradiction to the behavioral theory. Their criticism was based on the fact that behaviorists insist on isolated facts instead of analyzing patterns. This view which was known as cognitive theories was lead by Bode who proposed to go beyond behavior if we want to find an accurate explanation to what he called “brain-based learning”.
Cognitivists make a clear distinction between short term memory and long term memory to explain the function of human memory during the learning process. For them the memory goes through information sorting and encoding. They find the environment on which behaviorists based their thesis not enough to explain the learning process. They argued that the attention must rather be on the individual learner.
This basic view was reinforced later from the 1970s to nowadays and greatly influenced the new theories such as ‘’intelligence learning”, “learning how to learn”, and “social role acquisition” used today in instructional design. Baddeley and Atkinson are some figures of this new trend.
It is also important to note that two theories were generated from cognitivism: the first one is the constructivism of Jean Piaget and the second one is the Socio-constructivism of Lev Vygotsky. Piaget’s constructivism will be simply named constructivism whereas that of Lev Vygotsky will be named Socio-constructivism.
This learning theory appeared in the mid nineteenth century. The leading figure of constructivism is Jean Piaget (1964), for whom learning occurs through two complementary processes; assimilation and accommodation.
These respectively mean that the learner takes the information from his environment to his cognitive structure (assimilation) and when necessary that cognitive structure may be modified in order to add new experiences. Learning here is perceived as “an active attempt to construct meaning in the world around us” and the teacher’s role is that of a guide through a self-directed learning, as pointed out by Lisa Fritscher (2008).
As stated above, the leader of this theory is Vygotsky. This learning theory is based on the principle that the learner takes the ownership of knowledge under the tutorial of the instructor. Here there is a first social interaction between the learner and the instructor,( inter psychical) then personal interiorization of knowledge ( intra psychical). From socio-constructivism derives another learning theory called Learning by imitation or learning by reproduction.
126.96.36.199 Learning by Reproduction:
In this learning theory the instructor proceeds by examples or questions and the learner is requested to find appropriate replies according to certain rules. The instructor makes use of stimuli to encourage the learner to use studied items to solve problems. From what is acquired, the learner finds a way to apply it to new or similar situations. He reproduces the rule according to new situations.
188.8.131.52 Sensory Stimulation Theory:
The basic assumption of this theory is that it is when the senses are stimulated that “effective learning occurs” (Laird, 1985). By senses Laird means seeing (eyes), hearing (the ears), the touch, the smell and the taste. For Laird human beings and particularly adults learn more through seeing (75%) than through the other senses. Hearing, the next learning sense accounts for 13%, whereas all the other senses (taste, smell and touch) account for 12% only.
For sensory stimulation theory, learning is reinforced by stimulating the senses, particularly the visual one. However, if we manage to stimulate several senses or all of them, greater learning occurs.
184.108.40.206 Reinforcement Theory:
This theory is considered as a behaviorist theory because it was developed by the behaviorist Skinner for whom behavior depends on the positive or negative consequence that comes after stimuli. For example encouraging the learner with verbal qualifiers such as “excellent”, “very good” (called “reinforcement’’) will condition the learner to repeat the desired behavior. As for negative reinforcements, Burns noticed that they reduce the chance for the learner to repeat “the negatively reinforced behavior” (Burns, 1995).
220.127.116.11 Cognitive-Gestalt Approach:
Still for (Burns, 1995) individuals’ interpretation of their own needs and concerns at different times and contexts may be subjective. This approach gives great importance to “experience, problem-solving, and insight development”(Burns, 1995 page 112).
One of the leaders of this theory seems to be Laird who (1985, page 121) asserted that for learning to be effective, we must activate all the different elements composing what he called “individual personality”. They are the intellect, the emotion, desires or body impulses, intuition and imagination.
18.104.22.168 Facilitation Theory
One of the leaders of facilitation theory is Carl Rogers for whom learning occurs more easily if the teacher acts as a facilitator of learning. For Laird (1985) this means that the instructor must create an atmosphere that is favorable to the learner’s comfort, favorable to new ideas, and where there are no threats from external factors.
Learning is facilitated when learners are offered a chance to take their own learning responsibility and when self -evaluation and problem solving are encouraged.
22.214.171.124 Experiential Learning Theory:
Kolb, in (McGill & Beaty, 1995) presents learning as a four stage-continuous process that is based on the assumption that if there were no reflection, human beings would have continued to repeat their mistakes. As for the learning process, it can start at any of the four stages.
This multiplicity of learning theories can be summarized in two main groups: behaviorism and cognitivism. In behaviorism, the internal cognitive processes scientifically proved today by (Grau, 1995) which leads to learning is not taken into account. Thus, the learner appears as a passive recipient of knowledge. Teaching is more teacher and content-centered. This theory is the basis of lectures and whatever is related to traditional pedagogy.
As for cognitivism, that is to say all the other theories listed, except reinforcement theory which considered as part of behaviorism, it bases its existence on thinking. Laura Davenport (2001) and Jensen, (1998) . Here, the learner is an active participant in the process of learning. Lucksinger (2001 ) insists that great attention should be paid to knowledge, meaning, intents , feelings , creativity , the whole structure and all these cognitive processes such as memory, perception, problem solving , understanding , attention, etc. It is on this vision that andragogy, the adult teaching method which is the most suitable teaching method for students at the UFR of economics and management of Université Félix Houphouët Boigny.
Do we not have the impression that behaviorism on which traditional pedagogy and lectures are based is an isolated theory? Do we not have the impression that it is an out of date theory which is even abandoned? As for us, our option will be to use cognitive theories, particularly constructivism and Sensory Stimulation Theories for the analysis and the discussion of our investigation results.
In order to grasp all the aspects of this research, we think that having accurate data will be a great advantage. For this reason, we chose to initiate a field research as well as furtive observations of teachers in real life teaching situations.*
4.1 Observation of teachers
Our purpose in initiating these observations was to note the teaching materials used by teachers, verify if lecturers have clear teaching objectives, see the type of interaction that exists between teachers and learners, check if really some teachers face some difficulties in mastering their course contents as stated by some students. For this purpose, we chose to attend the first lectures of the academic year and the selection of the observed teachers was not neutral.
4.2 The field research
In addition to teachers observation, we found it useful to initiate some field research aiming at identifying students’ opinion on their lectures and teachers.The following paragraphes will present the details for this field research.
4.3 Research Site
Our survey took place at the UFR of economics and management of Université Félix Houphouët Boigny, in some amphitheaters and classrooms where respondents were gathered,
4.4 Research Population
Our research population consists of students (girls and boys) currently registered at the UFR of economics and management of Université Félix Houphouët Boigny 58% of our respondents are beteween 21 and 25 years old, whereas 26% of them are between 17 and 21 years old. Only few of them are over 25 years old. As we can see, our population is mainly that of premature adults (17-20) and young adults(20-40). As for teachers that we watched, they were five in number.
4.5 Sampling and Analysis Method
We opted for a simple random sampling based on 1000 students whose levels range from first year to the masters’ They were given a questionnaire to fill in class and handle it back.
5.1.1 Lecturers’ Observation
A short glance inside the amphi enabled us to see the teaching materials placed under the lecturer’s responsibility by the administration. These were:a duster, a large black board, some pieces of white and color chalk and a set of sound materials including a microphone. We noticed a lack of retro projector as well as a video projector, two materials that would help him to present at least the plan of his lecture. After a loud blow at the microphone to check that it works, the lecturer introduced himself on the academic plan and the lecture started with the plan presentation. None of the five lecturers presented the pedagogic or the andragogic objectives of the lectures. Two lecturers out of five informed students that questions are asked at the end of the lecture session. One of them was continuously saying : « shut up and take notes » forgetting to tell them when they will be allowed to ask questions. The two others chose to read their lectures to students whose role was to copy under their dictation. All the difficult words and nouns were correctly spelled on the black board. We could not confirm students’ assertion according to which some lecturers do not master their subjects. All the lectures were what we could expect from traditional pedagogy.
5.1.2 Students’ Views on Lecturers’ Teaching Approach
The majority of our respondents come from public secondary schools (83%) whereas 17% of them are from private schools. In Ivory Coast, public secondary school teachers are generally trained and regularly inspected. Therefore they are considered as a good teaching reference. This is the reason why we decided to compare lecturers at the UFR of economics and management who are not generally trained for teaching to secondary school teachers.
Thus, to the question “how do you think of the way secondary school teachers teach and the way lecturers teach at the university?”, (6.02%) of our respondents asserted that lecturers teach better than secondary school teachers whereas 93.97% of them said that secondary school teachers teach better than lectures.
Table 1 : Comparaison of secondary school teachers’ approach and that of lecturers
Lecturers teach better than secondary school teachers
secondary school teachers teach better than lecturers
Source : our survey
As for the mastering by lecturers of their subjects, the following figure 1 will present the statistics. Indeed, to the question “Do all your lecturers master their subject?”, 35% of our respondents asserted “yes” and 6% said “No”. The majority (69%) said that some lecturers do not master their subjects
Figure1 : Jugement sur la maîtrise du contenu des cours par les enseignants
Source : Enquête réalisée
5.1.3 Students’ Views on
To the question « What do you think of your lectures ? », 55% of our respondents(49%+6%) find their lectures either difficult or very difficult. However, 38% of them find them neither difficult, nor easy whereas 7% of them find them quite easy. As for the remaining 6%, they find their lectures very difficult.
Table 2 : Students’ Views on lectures
Neither easy, nor difficult
Difficult to understand
Source :our survey
We can note that the majority of students at the UFR of economics and management of Université Félix Houphouet Boigny find their lectures first, difficult to understand, second, that secondary school teachers teach better than their lecturers and finally that some professors do not master their subject matter. Even if our teachers’ observations did not permit us to confirm the last point ( teachers’ lack of mastery of their subject matter), our survey enabled us to reveal that there is a problem with lectures and lecturers’ teaching approach. Is this problem related to the nature of the lecturing system which does not seem to favor true learning? Since we could not confirm teachers’ lack of mastery of their subject matter, should we believe that students’ complaints are related to a teacher training problem?
In this section, we will try to discuss the results of our field research. First, we will try to interpret our results on teachers’ observations and then the data collected from students through the light of learning theories.
Learning theories enable us to assert that the lectures that we observed were based on the principles of behaviorism, therefore on the principles of traditional pedagogy in which the magister is at the core of the learning process. The magister or the professor is the supreme authority of the amphitheater and his decisions cannot be discussed. He is the exclusive detainer of knowledge and his role is to transfer that knowledge to students who, not only are supposed to know nothing, but also their participation in their learning process has less importance. This is why the observed teachers did not find it useful to allow students to ask questions. One of the lecturers kept on repeating “shut up and take notes” reminding students that they had no active role to play during his lecture, apart from listening and writing. Here the learner’s learning needs, his feeling and the cognitive aspects of his learning process are not taken into account. In such a system of traditional pedagogy, a student who fails is considered either as a mental deficient, or as a lazy learner, who did not make enough effort. Neither the course content, nor the teaching approach, much less the assessment methods are questioned, because the magister is omniscient and infallible.
Contrary to behaviorism, cognitive theories inform us through McGill & Beaty (1995) that without thinking, human beings would have remained in the repetition of their errors. The same way, Laird (1985) asserted that the instructor’s role is to create a learning environment in which the learner experiences comfort and which is susceptible to generate the emergence of new ideas. Lecturers, as described by students ignore these ideas from Laird and particularly what he calls “individual personality” and which consists of the intellect, the intuition, the emotion, the desires, body impulses, imagination etc. which must be activated for optimum learning (Laird, 1985). These cognitive ideas are acquired through a good teacher training which offers to instructors the opportunity to learn learning theories. A complete ignorance of learning theories offers no other choice to the lecturer for whom apart from traditional pedagogy; apart from the way he himself was lectured, there is no other teaching approach. The lack of teacher training makes of the lecturer an amatory navigator who has no clear idea of the direction to take his students to. This explains why students at the UFR of economics and management prefer secondary school teachers’ teaching approach to that of university lecturers. The same way, this explains why the majority of our students find it difficult or even very difficult to understand their lectures. Well trained instructors, judiciously informed of learners’ learning profiles, as well as learning theories would have a more attractive course that favors true learning. For example because the lecturers that we observed ignore that human beings in general, and particularly adult learners learn better (75%) through the sight (Laird, 1985), they never asked for neither a video projector; nor a retro projector. Such ignorance is shared by the administration, and the result is that the sight is not activated and learning is deprived of 75% of its potentials.
Behaviorism which is at the core of traditional pedagogy cannot lead to true learning. The reason is that, as a theory, it has no scientific foundation. This explains why apart from the reinforcement theory, behaviorism has not been extended. The only fact that it is not as extended as cognitive ideas proves its lack of scientifically certifiable supports. It lacks scientific pertinence and deserves to be either revised or abandoned. Laura Davenport, (2001) seems to agree with us when she asserted that cognitivism, because it has scientifically tested proofs, is today the most widespread, the most accepted, and the most utilized learning theory.
Since behaviorism which is at the foundation of the lecturing system has nowadays lost any scientific basis, it is now high time to make it disappear as well as the magister, this human being who is said to know everything, this authoritative magister who is thought to be perfect and omniscient. Such a human being has actually never existed. The time has now come for professionals in the field of education to take out their gown of the magister, to accept to be trained in the principles of andragogy, based on cognitive ideas, and finally put on the new gown of humble guides, humble agents whose role is to help learners in the difficult process of knowledge construction. The wisest professor detains just a parcel of this complex and intangible wealth called knowledge. Considering a person as the exclusive reservoir of knowledge is in reality a lie. If nobody has the exclusivity of knowledge, it means that nobody really transmits knowledge. Constructivism as a learning theory claims that learning is constructed at the learner’s own pace under certain conditions. Consequently, learning cannot be transmitted. How many language courses did each of us receive when, as a baby, we were learning our mother tongue for the first time? How many courses of French, Japanese, Italian, Greece, Agni, Bété, Gouro did the baby receive to grow up as a competent user of its mother tongue?
The answer is none. Our natural and permanent exposure to the mother tongue only, was enough for us to construct internally, cognitively, the grammatical and lexical structures needed to be competent users of our mother tongue. Why should it be different when it comes to learn something else?
We fully agree with Lisa Fritscher (2008) to assert that the instructor’s role is that of a mere guide through whom learning occurs, such learning is self-directed and not transmitted according to the way of the lecturing system. Did Ellen Weber not assert that lectures work against the brain (weber.com)?. As for Hestenes, professor at Arizona State University who is presently fighting to change the way university students are lectured, he said: “the lecture classes seem to be working for about 10 percent of the students”…:”I think all the evidence indicates that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor.” We would like to add that even the 10 percent who finally learn perform series of cognitive and internal activities whose end is the construction of learning. Learning always requests personal effort. Learning is a personal achievement that the best teacher never offers. The same way, lectures convey a certain amount of information that need to be treated cognitively before learning is acquired. As we can see, learning is an exclusively personal endeavor. This is the reason why for us, instead of lecturing our students, we should trust them and let them try the experience of self-learning. We may even be surprised to note how much knowledge some of them will construct on topics that were at the beginning totally new to them.
At the origin, lectures used to supplement the insufficiency of books. At that time, knowledge was centered on the few privileged that had access to books. There was confusion between those elite and knowledge itself. Today, with the explosion of printing, aggravated by the development of information technologies, which resulted in the explosion of web libraries and research engines, knowledge is available for everyone. In such a context, the perpetuation of the lecturing system is no longer justified. Furthermore, behaviorism, which served as the basic theory justifying lecturing, has lost its scientific credibility in front of cognitive theories that are nowadays justified by tested and verifiable scientific proofs. A change is absolutely needed: either we adapt lectures to the principles of cognitive theories and we will still attract students, or we keep them in their traditional form and they will disappear soon because students’ attendance will progressively collapse. This change starts from a well planned teacher training in the principles of andragogy or cognitive learning theories.
To conclude on this research, we propose to share with you the opinion of two well known world class experts: they are Albert Einstein and Kuan Tzu, who made the following quotations; ‘’ I never teach my students, I only try to create the conditions in which they can learn » ‘’If you give fish to one man, he will have a single meal, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat his all life.’’
What message are Einstein and Kuan Tzu sending to teachers and educators? Do we really help our students when we spend long hours and great energy in preparing and delivering our lectures to them? We are so keen on the lecture content and its academic value, but how many students really care about this effort? Why not involve our students in the research that leads to the course design by students themselves, under our supervision? Do we not think that the only fact of involving students in their course design could be really motivating and it could help them understand such a course more easily, but also memorize it much longer? The personal research time assigned to students in the new L.M.D. (licence, Master, Doctorat) reform serves this aim. Our role as educators is to use research time to involve our students in their course and curriculum design.
In so doing, we are not only trying to imitate Albert Einstein et Kuan Tzu by teaching our students how to fish, that is to say how to learn by themselves, but we are also preparing them to learn all their lives and, to paraphrase Montaigne, our students will have, not “a well-filled head”, but rather “a well shaped-head” trained to learn endlessly to become well-filled, because, if it is true that “a well shaped-head is better than a well-filled head”, having both of them is preferable than having a well-shaped head only. Does Educare (the root of education) not mean the training of the mind? Why should we try to fill the mind through lectures?
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