Why Use Interactive Lecture Demonstrations

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

Interactive Lecture Demonstrations improve student learning

Students acquire significantly greater understanding of course material when traditional lectures are combined with Interactive Lecture Demonstrations. In a traditional approach, students are told correct answers and then expected to repeat them on the assessment, usually a test. By contrast, the Interactive Lecture Demonstration approach sets up an environment in which students are able to apply those concepts in new contexts.

Podcast explaining the rationale behind Interactive Lecture Demonstrations.

Each step in an Interactive Lecture Demonstration contributes to student learning.

  • The prediction step connects the in-class demonstration with the student's prior experience. Couch et al (2004) conclude, "students who predict the demonstration outcome before seeing it display significantly greater understanding." Learn more about the prediction step
  • The experience step is especially effective if it has a surprise effect, challenging an assumption or prior conception. Research on learning suggests that it is more effective for students to experience a dissonant moment rather than simply to be told that their initial understanding is inadequate. (National Research Council 2005 How Students Learn)

    Students may have limited prior knowledge and thus may have only quite fuzzy pre-conceptions. In these cases, the activity may present contrasting cases with apparently contradictory outcomes.
    • Schwartz and Bransford 1998 show that demonstrations focused on contrasting cases help students achieve expert-like differentiation.
    • Schwartz and Martin 2004 found that carefully-prepared demonstrations "help students generate the types of knowledge that are likely to help them learn" from subsequent lectures.
    • This step can create a 'time for telling,' so that students will be able learn from direct instruction such as a lecture. Listen to a podcast on a 'time for telling'.
  • The reflection step (students thinking about their experience) enhances student achievement and develops in students the ability to learn independently Bransford et al 1999. Lectures without such preparation often cause students to fall back on memorization rather than understanding (Mestre 2005).

Additional research showing that Interactive Lecture Demonstrations improve learning:

Physics education research groups have conducted the most extensive investigations of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations. Learn more about physics education research groups from the University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group.

  • Using the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation, Ronald Thornton reports normalized gains of 30% - 90% using ILDs (see the summary of data (Microsoft Word 63kB Jan24 10)).
  • In addition to gains on concept inventories, Redish and Hammer 2009 found that:
    • in a split-survey, students more often chose the correct answer as both the one "a scientist would give," and also the one that "makes the most intuitive sense." Without the new labs, students were more likely to split their answer, correctly identifying what a scientist would think, but still holding the incorrect answer as the one that "makes the most intuitive sense."
    • Videotapes of student talk during the demonstrations showed an increase in "sense-making" discussion--as opposed to logistical or off-task conversation--from about 5 minutes of traditional lab time to more than 20 minutes of a two hour Interactive Lecture Demonstration.
    • In the Maryland Physics Expectations survey, student attitudes typically show a decline by 5-10% after taking a physics course, student. After the new labs, the survey showed an increase in the appreciation of "big ideas" in physics as opposed to memorization of information, and the relevance of physics to the students' personal experiences.

  • K-12 instruction has used a technique similar to Interactive Lecture Demonstrations at least since the 1970s. Usually it is called Predict-Observe-Explain (POE) summarized in the Handbook of Educational Psychology. For research on POE also see Palmer 1995.