Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

What Slow Lectures Achieve

04 Oct 2009

University students, and particularly their parents, are always afraid that their profs might go too fast during lectures thereby impeding their learning. They fear that if the prof goes too fast, they wouldn't absorb much, and they therefore have to spend extra time after-hours doing their own studying.

But there is an even bigger evil that causes much more damage in the long run. This is when profs go too slowly. Kids today can process much more information much faster thanks to the effect of video games and the internet, so if their information channel isn't being filled up fully or close to fully during a lecture, the kids tend to get distracted and think about something else, even if there is sufficient interest in the lecture material.

This might explain why smart kids sometimes perform poorly even on easy courses. One reason is that the prof proceeds with the lecture material too slowly especially during their first and second years, causing the kids to be frequently distracted. Therefore no information is retained from lectures and grades plummet. No smart kid wants to spend extra time studying at home for an easy course. Low traffic in a high bandwidth information channel will always be compensated for by the imagination. This, of course, is nothing but a variant of Parkinson's Law.

So the point is that slow lectures, usually by older profs whose information bandwidth is much less compared to that of today's students, can sometimes cause more harm than improvement. And because of the 80/20 pareto principle, if your smart kids are losing focus and interest, that puts your smart kids at a disadvantage, which in turn puts your entire school at a disadvantage because it's usually the smartest 20% kids that bring in 80% of your fame.

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