Bring Back the University Lecture: More on Evidence-Based Teaching

News Blog readers are now familiar with Hattie’s monumental work on evidence-based education [1] – an overview (meta-synthesis) of:


To remind you, the huge proportion of the meta-analyses and studies (96%) show positive effects – maybe a Hawthorne effect of some sort. So an influence or intervention that produces an effect size of, say, only 0.2 of a standard deviation must be considered not particularly useful – it will be at the bottom end of a distribution in which nearly everything ‘works’.

In our last two posts [2] [3] we identified two factors that were, perhaps surprisingly, effete:

  1. Small class sizes.
  2. Problem-based learning.

I should have mentioned that there is no threshold class size – reducing from 200 to 60; 60 to 20; 20 to 8 all yield nugatory benefits. Moreover, and again perhaps surprisingly, the results of most studies are not very age-group dependent. You can see where I am going – abandoning the lecture in universities, in line with current fashion, should be questioned, especially given the cost-efficiency of the method. Important variables (have the students pre-prepared; does the lecturer stop and ask questions to assess understanding; do the students set time aside to reflect; does the lecturer assess herself; does she adapt herself to the type of class/group she is teaching) are all more important than the size of the class. A great lecturer is a scarce resource to be used wisely. Think TED talks.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Hattie J. The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. 2015; 1(1): 79-91.
  2. Lilford RJ. Evidence-Based Education (or how wrong the CLAHRC WM Director was). NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 15 July 2016.
  3. Lilford RJ. Ask to Not Whether, But Why, Before the Bell Tolls! NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 29 July 2016.

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