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Microlectures Bring Teaching Up to Speed of Light

Lectures: by and large, not the most enthralling portion of the college experience. Just the idea of a professor in soliloquy for upwards of an hour is enough to put many people off from returning to school. At San Juan College in New Mexico, however, course designers are hard at work, using new ideas and education theory technology to rebuild the lecture, making them better, stronger, and much, much faster.

Take a 60-minute lecture. Cut the excess verbiage, do away with most of the details, and pare it down to key concepts and themes.

What's left? A "microlecture" over in as few as 60 seconds. A course designer for San Juan College, a community college in Farmington, N.M., says that in online education, such tiny bursts can teach just as well as traditional lectures when paired with assignments and discussions.

Short lectures are great (York University in Toronto, for example, has reportedly been experimenting with twenty minute lectures to take the tedious edge off distance learning courses), but sixty seconds sounds way too short to cram in very much knowledge, and there are quite a few skeptics questioning how professors plan to address complex issues like literary analysis or complicated formulas within the limited time frame. However, the professors embracing the format say it has less to do with cramming in knowledge, and more to do with taking the focus off the lecture and spending more time balancing it with active schoolwork.

The format encourages active learning, says David Penrose, a course designer for SunGard Higher Education and online-services manager for San Juan College. He developed the microlectures for San Juan. While the quantity of information that a 60-second microlecture can convey is limited, he said, it primes the student to learn from completing the assignments that follow the microlecture.

"It's a framework for knowledge excavation," Mr. Penrose said. "We're going to show you where to dig, we're going to tell you what you need to be looking for, and we're going to oversee that process."

Individual student reviews are mixed, but the numbers don't lie -- since introducing microlectures into an occupational safety course at San Juan, enrollment skyrocketed to almost 500. With such heavy forces taking interest, expect to see a lot more of this new lecture approach developing in the future.

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