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
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
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. Students answered questions on an
achievement test that covered the information presented in each class.
Independent and Dependent Variables
The present study evaluated the relationship between lecture
combined with discussion and cooperative learning on the achievement
test results of students immediately following the intervention and up
to four months later. The independent variable in this experiment was
the way that new information was presented, either through lecture
combined with discussion or cooperative learning. The dependent variable
was the percentage of correct responses on the students'
The investigators equally randomized the presentation of concepts
between cooperative learning and lecture combined with discussion. A
total of four lessons (i.e., two cooperative learning lessons, two
lecture combined with discussion) were presented during each session.
Each lesson lasted approximately 20 minutes. The lecture combined with
discussion were content driven. The teacher of the course introduced key
concepts and opportunities to discuss that were offered throughout the
lecture combined with discussion period. Utilizing a variation of the
new American lecture strategy (Silver, Hanson, Strong, & Schwartz,
1996), the investigators developed the lecture combined with discussion
lessons by: (1) identifying key concepts, (2) posing topical questions,
(3) providing visual organizers, (4) providing visual organizers that
required students to record specific information during the lecture, and
(5) focusing discussion by posing topical questions.
Cooperative learning lessons entailed a jigsaw activity in which
students were divided into teams of two to four individuals. Individual
team members completed equal portions of the total task assigned to the
team. Students were responsible for learning all aspects of the
information (Nattiv, Winitzky, & Drickey, 1991). The instructor
monitored individual and team efforts and provided task assistance when
necessary (Fisher, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1996).
In order to measure effectiveness of the instruction, forty item
quizzes were administered to the subjects at the beginning and end of
each class session. At the end of the semester, the instructor
administered a final examination that randomly evaluated key concepts
presented during the prior ten-week period. Four months after the end of
the semester, each subject was contacted and subsequently took the same
test to measure long term retention of taught concepts.
The mean pretest percentages of correct responses for the lecture
combined with discussion method ranged from a low of 34 to a high of 68.
The mean scores for the cooperative learning method ranged from 43 to
75. These data are presented in Figure 1. As summarized in Figure 2, the
mean posttest percentages of correct responses for the lecture combined
with discussion method ranged from a low of 40 to a high of 89, and the
mean scores for the cooperative learning method ranged from 37 to 82. It
is evident that the pretest scores were a bit higher for the cooperative
method topics, thus yielding less opportunity for substantial gains. A
total gain score was computed by adding each of the gain scores for the
10 students with the two instructional methods. The average gain score
for the lecture combined with discussion method approach was 146 points
(minimum = 75, maximum = 275). The average total gain score for the
cooperative learning approach was 77 points (minimum = -60, maximum =
120). Because of the small number of participants in this investigation,
no tests for statistically significant differences were conducted. The
average gain scores are presented in Figure 3. The gain scores for the
lecture combined with discussion were substantially higher than those
for the cooperative method; much higher than would be expected due
solely to chance.
[Figures 1-3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
In addition to pretest and posttest scores, other data were
collected. An evaluation of the data for the final test revealed little
difference between lecture combined with discussion (mean = 63, minimum
= 45, maximum = 80) and cooperative learning (mean = 61, minimum 55,
maximum 70). A comparison of the data collected four months later showed
there continued to be little difference in long-term retention (lecture
combined with discussion: mean = 52, minimum = 40, maximum = 70;
cooperative learning: mean = 54, minimum = 45, maximum = 70).
Data indicated lecture combined with discussion yielding better
performance in producing short-term retention when compared to that of
cooperative learning. However, results were similar when comparing
long-term retention. The generalization of these data is limited,
however, because of the limited number of students involved in the
evaluation of the instructional procedures. Further research with a
larger group of students may mimic these results. Yet, the results of
this study benefit not only the investigators' teaching but also
that of other college and university instructors. Identification of
better classroom techniques benefits teacher instructional choices.
Because of identified effectiveness, college and university instructors
enhance student performance through these choices. Lecture combined with
discussion is one choice the skilled professor can make.
The advantages of lecturing are many and include: ease of
preparation and planning, orderly and systematic sharing of information
to large groups, stimulation of further learning, and preferred
presentation approach by many students. However, the lecture has its
limitations: measurement of learning is inconvenient, speakers can bias
information, speaker style may disturb some listeners, listener
attention wanes after approximately fifteen minutes, and long-term
retention may be limited (Kahler, Morgan, Holmes, & Bundy, 1985;
Legge, 1974; Verner, & Dickenson, 1967). Specific strengths of
discussion involve: participation in discussion keeps learners active,
promotes development of communication and collaboration, and encourages
tolerance for other points of view. There are possible limitations to
discussion, however: it requires learner participation, a few group
members may dominate discussion, teacher planning time may be extensive,
and restriction in time and space interfere with discussion (Kahler,
Morgan, Holmes, & Bundy, 1985).
An additional instructional choice the skilled professor can make
involves combining lecture with discussion and cooperative learning.
Reported benefits of cooperative learning include: increased retention,
use of higher level reasoning, better view and acceptance of others,
positive attitude, higher self-esteem, greater social support, positive
psychological adjustment, greater collaborative skills, better behavior
(Johnson, & Johnson, 1980; Slavin, 1991). The benefits may be offset
by the weaknesses of cooperative learning: difficulties in grading,
extensive teacher planning, ongoing need for teacher intervention, and
acceptance of cooperative learning as an effective method of instruction
(Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm, 1997). Effective use of cooperative learning
involves the skilled professor assuring individual accountability,
teaching collaboration and interdependence, providing opportunities for
success, offering a conducive room arrangement, structuring activities
to match academic goals, and enforcing a management plan (Goor, &
Schwenn; 1993; Waldron, 1995). A teaching strategy that combines all of
these instructional procedures may exploit the advantages of each while
mitigating their individual weaknesses.
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Robert L. Morgan, Principal, Cooperative School, Rawlins, WY. James
E. Whorton, Department of Special Education, University of Southern
Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS. Cynthia Gunsalus, Department of Education,
Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr.
Robert L. Morgan, Carbon County School District One, P.O. Box 160,