Student knowledge retention in college classrooms: Traditional versus interactive lectures

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


John Centra


Knowledge retention, Interactive lectures, Lecture

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research


Much has been written about the greater effectiveness of active learning teaching techniques. This study looked at the interactive lecture method of active learning, the least active of the active learning methods, and addressed two questions: Do interactive lectures significantly improve short term knowledge retention compared to traditional lectures, and is there a significant difference in knowledge retention between interactive and traditional lectures at different time intervals within a class session?

To answer these questions the researcher studied 12 class sessions, six taught by interactive lectures and six taught by traditional lectures, with 5 different instructors. The sessions were videotaped to provide a record of content associated with time intervals. Tests were created from the content, verified for accuracy by the instructor, and administered to participants five days after the lecture. Participants were instructed to do nothing out of their ordinary routine. Two hundred ninety seven participants completed the tests that provided data for this study.

The researcher derived the definition of an interactive lecture through the literature, and observations and discussions with the instructors who participated in this study. The literature review revealed that little has been done in knowledge retention studies with regard to active learning.

In total performance based on the test scores, 5 of the 6 interactive lecture groups significantly outperformed the traditional lecture groups. When viewed at four minute intervals within 80 minute class sessions, the interactive lecture participants significantly outperformed the traditional lecture participants 35 percent of the time in the worst case to 80 percent of the time in the best case. A pattern of knowledge retention over time emerged in the general shape of a "W" indicating two periods where retention dropped. Even though the interactive lecture participants outperformed the traditional lecture participants, the same "W" pattern emerged. This was consistent with prior research on traditional lectures which covered time frames of 50 minutes and less. This study appears to be the first to look at 80 minute class sessions.


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