Can a Lecture Be Experiential?

Can a Lecture Be Experientiall?

While in graduate school, I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Jasper Hunt my professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. We were filling out conference proposal forms for an experiential education conference. He commented about the “check box” on the application form requesting us to identify which portion of the presentation would be experiential and which portion would be lecture based. Jasper shared that he felt this was counter productive to defining a quality presentation. He argued that a good lecture CAN be experiential.


I have reflected many times on that comment when attending (or delivering) a lecture or lesson. Recently this topic came up in my work with both classroom teachers and corporate trainers who struggle with the need to cover a great deal of curricular content in a short time in a structured classroom or boardroom setting. These educators struggle to balance their need to cover the content and their desire to teach more experientially in order to engage learners and create lasting lessons.


This past summer I attended two different keynote lectures at educational conferences that were very engaging and created lasting impressions on me. I reflected on that conversation with Jasper and wondered: What was it that made those lectures engaging? Would they be considered “experiential”?


When I compared the presenters’ actions with the principles of experiential education, I found the educators did incorporate many tenets of experiential education and brain-friendly teaching strategies. And they did so in what might not usually be considered an experiential format for teaching: a giant lecture hall and a power point presentation.


Here is what I noticed:


Emotional Engagement: When the speaker is knowledgeable and passionate about their subject it comes through regardless of the format of their lesson. This kind of energy is contagious- and can’t help but instigate some sense of relevancy and buy in from audience members. When Dr. Hunt lectured on the subject of experiential education philosophy or ethics, his interest and passion around the subject were obvious and infectious. I remember being drawn in by his enthusiasm and class time flying by.


Recently, I worked with a group of high school teachers who are trying to teach more experientially in an atmosphere with a strong emphasis on test scores. I challenged them to reflect on what it was that first ignited their passion around the subject area. If they are in touch with that passion and find a way to communicate that, they will find a way to stimulate some of that same passion in their students.


Relevancy and transference to real life: The speakers infused personal stories that the audience could relate to, both about themselves and others. They also asked audience members to reflect on a related personal experience of their own.


Social engagement, the use of metaphor, creating relevancy, instigating reflection, differentiating instruction (using different methods of imparting information):

The speakers used humor that was relevant to the audience. They used visual aids (photo, cartoon,) to illustrate a concept and relate it to the audience’s experience. One speaker asked audience members to reflect on or share an experience related to the subject with someone sitting nearby or at their table. When they used a power point there were VERY FEW WORDS. The power point served as a place marker, prompt, or visual aid to underscore a point.


The educators were intentional in the way they started and ended the presentation. Beginning with a reflective question, interesting story, or provocative statement to engage the group, and then sharing a quote or giving the group a personal challenge to end the lecture. In these cases, they were taking advantage of the principle of the “primacy-recency effect“—the idea that people remember most the very beginning of a learning experience and the very end. (Sousa, 2006).


This reflection brought me to the conclusion that with careful planning, intention, consideration of the needs of their audience,  and the ability to tap into their passion around a subject an educator can engage learners experientially through a lecture.


Please share your thoughts and experiences as both a learner and educator on this subject!


References: Sousa, David. How the Brain Learns.Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006.

  • J. Lara
    Posted at 08:15h, 29 November

    Jennifer – I have been wrestling with this concept for sometime now and your blog posting came at just the right time – how to make my “lectures” more experiential and less lecture-like. I think I have some metaphor work to do, but I’ve got the emotions and transference piece covered.

    Always something I can do to improve 🙂

  • Ekaterini Vlamis
    Posted at 13:03h, 07 December

    I so LOVED your piece on Can a Lecture be Experiential? Thank you!!
    I am hoping (if they accept my proposal) to speak before 75 people in January and hope to offer a 1 hour talk (but of course I’d like to make it as experiential as possible)!!
    Appreciate you reenforcing my thoughts that it can be done and hearing some solid examples of how others do it and which part of the talk is MOST likely to be remembered.

  • Jen
    Posted at 14:11h, 21 December

    Thank you for your comment! I am glad you found some of the ideas helpful. I hope your presentation goes well!

  • Jen
    Posted at 14:15h, 21 December

    Thanks for commenting. I am glad the article resonated with you. Keep me posted on what you are finding with incorporating these methods into your lectures.

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