An engaging, thoughtfully presented lecture has the power to inform and inspire students. However, when lectures are delivered in a dull and uninspired manner, they can fall flat and cause students to disengage from the learning process.

Through our recent “Today’s Student” project (conducted with the Work Institute), we set out to learn more about students’ college experiences, exploring how they define their “best” and “worst” classes. We share the findings in our recent white paper, The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the “Best” Classes against the “Worst.”

Among these findings, we noted that 54% of our surveyed students said that lecture-based classes were their worst classroom experience. Most likely, these “worst” classes included lectures that lacked the instructor’s enthusiasm and left little room for student involvement and participation.

Making lectures meaningful - cengage learning - lecture classes were the worst experience


Many of the student comments echoed this result and highlighted the ineffectiveness of a dry lecture that relied too heavily on notes :

  • “It was all PowerPoint learning. She read from the [slides] word for word. I did not understand why I was paying so much for a class when I could just read on my own.”
  • “[My] law professor crammed everything onto a PowerPoint and would read it word for word. She was dryer than a saltine cracker.”

You can hardly blame these students… No one wants to listen to—or give—a “dry” lecture!

What steps can you take to combat this “dryness” and create a compelling learning experience for students? Thankfully, there’s much you can do.

Three suggestions that will help you make your lectures more meaningful to students

In all likelihood, you need to continue lecturing in your courses. So, how can you make the listening and learning experience more meaningful and engaging for students?

Craft lectures that help students see why you believe the material is relevant. Demonstrate your own passion for the topic! Speak with enthusiasm and authority. Use vivid examples, case studies, and relevant anecdotes that show students the real-world application of what you’re covering in class. (As we noted in an earlier post, students get most excited about a course when they see how what they’re learning is relevant to their future goals.)

Don’t worry. You don’t have to be the world’s most dynamic speaker to engage your students! Read our list of practical tips for creating an engaging lecture. Put those tips into practice, and you’ll be well on your way to holding students’ attention.

Interweave active learning opportunities into your course. Lively discussions, small-group projects, and hands-on activities provide opportunities for increased student involvement in the classroom, while also allowing them to put course principles and concepts into practice. Physical exercise can increase student engagement as well (and no, you don’t have to be a fitness coach to do it)! With experiences like these, students will see the value of attending class sessions.

Ready to take the class to another level? Learn more about the flipped-classroom approach. Our “Flipping the College Classroom” podcast series, led by Marc Alan Sperber, MS and Craig Dane Roberts, PhD of Duke University, has a number of great ideas that can help you get started.

Use PowerPoint to enhance, rather than replicate, your lectures. As students told us, PowerPoint is definitely not best employed as a script off of which the lecturer reads, word for word. Instead, allow your PowerPoint slides to complement the material you’re presenting in the lecture itself. Include brief synopses of key points, and use photos, graphs & charts, and illustrations to visually represent the concepts you’re addressing. By so doing, you’ll help students follow along with your lecture, while also adding a touch of visual interest to the presentation.

Worried that students will miss something if you don’t have it all up on screen during class time? Distribute your slides after class, with added detail in the “Notes” field. To keep things simple for students (and minimize download time), save the presentation as a PDF and upload to your LMS or course website. You might also try out Microsoft Office Mix, which enables you to turn your PowerPoint deck into an embeddable, interactive presentation. (Want tips? Review our previous post on Microsoft Office Mix integration into MindTap for Computing… and scroll to the end for some helpful hints on using it for your own course.)


Learn more about the factors that students say make for the “best college classes”!

» Download the whitepaper: “The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the ‘Best’ Classes against the ‘Worst’”

What are your tips for making lectures more meaningful to students? Share your ideas in the comments.