Opinion: Less is More – Less Instructor Lecturing Promotes More Student Learning

Written by Dr. Douglas Selent on |
Dr. Douglas Selent
Dr. Douglas Selent is an assistant professor of computer science and software engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. 

Remembering back to my own classroom experiences as a computer science student, I always wanted to be doing fun problems in class instead of watching the instructor doing examples. From almost 10 years of experience as a college educator, I have noticed my students also share the same sentiment and want to be actively engaged in class. Research has shown that students learn more by actively engaging in learning activities rather than passively learning [1].  Research has also shown that teaching by actively engaging students helps students from diverse populations (race and socioeconomic status).  In an analysis performed on several research studies, it was shown that “active learning reduced achievement gaps in examination scores by 33% and narrowed gaps in passing rates by 45%” [2].

The simple solution here is that instructors should give the students what they want. Instead of lecturing, instructors should be preparing problems and activities and guiding students through them in class.

The generic term for this is called active learning. Active learning is where students are actively participating in the learning process. This can be as simple as having students think about a question and discussing it in pairs or as fun as playing custom-made educational games in class. There are many benefits of active learning, which include: 

  • Increased engagement
  • Improved student performance and retention
  • Fosters more collaboration
  • Increased motivation
  • Instant feedback

Here is an example of how I implement active learning in a typical software engineering class. I teach several software design patterns, which are specific ways of programming solutions to common programming problems. The goals of these lessons are:

  1. Understand the problem that the design pattern is trying to solve
  2. Be able to implement the design pattern
  3. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the design pattern
  4. Know when to use the design pattern

I start class by introducing a problem to the students. The problems are often scaffolded into two steps, where there is a part I and part II to the problem. Students then work together in teams of roughly four to solve the problem.  The students use the Code With Me plugin to collaboratively and synchronously program in the active learning classroom together. When the students are finished programming the problem, they have implemented the design pattern which was one of the goals of the lesson!

My role as instructor during this part of the lesson is to simply walk around the room every 10 minutes to each team and answer questions and check on progress providing additional guidance if necessary. With class sizes of ~25 students, I am often looking out the window during my own class as the students work on the problem. The less I am lecturing the more my students are learning.

After students have learned and implemented the solution on their own, I go over the solution and relate what the students programmed to the technical terminology. I also ask the entire class what some advantages and disadvantages of their solution are that they noticed while they were working. This also teaches the advantages and disadvantages of the design pattern, which is another goal of the lesson.

Well-designed fun activities do take significantly more time for instructors to develop and prepare but the payoff is worth it. With well-designed activities and proper guidance, students are perfectly capable of learning on their own.  I find that students prefer and learn better this way.



  1. Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences111(23), 8410-8415.
  2. Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., ... & Freeman, S. (2020). Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences117(12), 6476-6483.