2012; 34: 198–204
Twelve tips for effective lecturing in
a PBL curriculum
ALAM SHER MALIK & RUKHSANA HUSSAIN MALIK
Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia
Background: Retaining lectures in problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum places new demands on lecturers. In addition to
subject knowledge, the lecturers must know the overall aims of the lectures, their context in the course, their relation to the
subsequent examinations and the underlying educational philosophy.
Aim: Aim of this communication is to propose ways that will transform the traditional didactic lectures into PBL-compliant
Methods: Insights from the self-experience and that of colleagues and the feedback from students are synthesised with current
literature regarding best teaching practices to develop these tips.
Results: These tips, ranging from involving students in the learning process to a routine practice of reflection after delivering a
lecture, highlight methods of preparing and delivering lectures that follow the educational philosophy underpinning the PBL
Conclusion: We believe that these tips by advancing the driving force for meaningful learning will transform the didactic lectures
of traditional curriculum to interactive sessions that would enhance understanding, augment critical thinking and promote self-
directed learning among students.
In problem-based learning (PBL), learning is perceived as a
qualitative change of one’s conception of phenomena and
ideas and consequently, knowledge must be actively pro-
cessed by the students. However Fyrenius et al. (2005) argue
that with the awareness of the possible drawbacks of the large
format, lectures can be used as valuable tools for learning, also
in a PBL curriculum.
Faculty of Health Sciences, Linkoping University, Sweden,
when implementing PBL in 1986 decided to use lectures to
introduce or summarise an area, elaborate on difficult concepts
and phenomena or to introduce relevant research findings that
were not available in students’ literature (Fyrenius et al. 2005).
In addition to above reasons, Faculty of Medicine, Univrsiti
Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Malaysia, while implementing
hybrid PBL curriculum retained lectures ‘to cover the transition
from traditional lecture-based teaching of schools to student-
centred learning in university for new students’. The number of
lectures decreased drastically as the students moved to higher
Retaining lectures in a PBL curriculum places new demands
on lecturers. In addition to subject knowledge, it is of utmost
importance that the lecturers know the overall aims of the
lectures, their context in the course, their relation to the
subsequent examinations and the underlying educational
philosophy. A lack of awareness might, by jeopardising the
driving force for meaningful learning, result in lectures that
counteract the aims of the PBL approach (Fyrenius et al. 2005).
Insights from the self-experience and that of colleagues and
the feedback from students are synthesised with current
literature regarding best teaching practices to develop
Students’ feedback was obtained after 6 weeks into their
first module of 12 weeks and also at the end of the module in
the Faculty of Medicine, UiTM. These students had come
directly from schools where they were taught strictly in a
lecture-based traditional curriculum. This was the first hand
information from students who had recently joined a university
and were first time exposed to a totally new curriculum (hybrid
PBL curriculum). Faculty’s opinions included in this article
were expressed during a ‘Colloquium on Students’ Feedback
on Lectures and Lecturers’ (CSFL&L) organised to deliberate on
Involve students in the learning process
The learning environment in institutions influences students’
learning mainly indirectly whereas classroom learning envi-
ronment may have a direct effect on students’ learning.
A number of instruments have been developed to assess the
learning environment in the classroom (Genn & Harden 1986).
Establish a non-threatening, relaxed environment oriented
towards learning so that students may feel comfortable to
share their views, expose their areas of weakness and share
Correspondence: A.S. Malik, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Level 20, Tower 1, S&T complex, Shah Alam 40000, Selangor,
Malaysia. Tel: 0060355442834; fax: 0060355442831; email: email@example.com
198 ISSN 0142–159X print/ISSN 1466–187X online/12/030198–7 ß 2012 Informa UK Ltd.
their areas of expertise. Our students reported ‘We are
frightened to attend some classes. Hope lecturers can be
friendly with us so that we can discuss issues effectively’.
A good lecturer deeply cares about his/her students; has a
passion and knowledge about his/her discipline and is in
control of the situation in the class. The students must feel that
a lecturer is approachable. Ensure meaningful participation of
students not only in discussions but also in making decisions.
This aspect has been emphasised in a number of publications,
such as SPICES model (Harden et al. 1984), adult learning
(David & Patel 1995), contextual learning (Coles 1991), PBL
(van der Vleuten et al. 1996) and task-based learning (Harden
et al. 1996a, 1996b) and PBL (Davis & Harden 1999).
. To ease their anxiety, communicate your expectations for
students’ behaviour, e.g. they should ask questions and
discuss the issues. Work out a system for holding your
students responsible for participation in the class.
. Encourage your students to help develop ground rules for
discussion and follow these rules all the time.
. Respond to problems in a personalised way as advocated
by the theory of adult learning (Knowles 1988) and
principles of deliberate practice (Ericsson et al. 1993).
. Move around the room and offer words of praise such as
‘good’ or ‘interesting’ to students who are participating.
. Never ridicule a student’s questions or remarks. You can
disagree with a student without attacking him or her
. Always credit the thoughtfulness of a student’s contributions
and dignify their responses by highlighting their valid
. Encourage questions and clarifications. Allow students to
interrupt during the lecture to ask questions as your answer
may be crucial to understand the concept or the rest of the
lecture. A student may not be able to continue to concen-
trate as something which was not clear to him/her will keep
on bothering. Be prepared to explain again if requested.
. Be conscious of signs of racial or sexual harassment or
personal attacks. Make it clear by your words and actions
that such behaviour is not acceptable.
. Refer students with psychological, emotional, academic or
financial problems to the appropriate counsellors. You can
be sympathetic and supportive, but becoming a student’s
counsellor can cause problems.
. A healthy and attractive physical environment that is
conducive to teaching and learning is of utmost importance.
As our students pointed out ‘The lecture was good and
could be understood easily – just the lecture hall was too
hot and crowded’. Make sure that lecture hall is well lit, and
sound system is operating well.
Align your lecture with modern learning theories
Current learning theories derived from constructivism con-
clude that students draw on existing knowledge and previous
experiences to construct new knowledge and understanding.
PBL also applies this constructivist approach to learning
(Davis & Harden 1999). These theories suggest that the
existing knowledge must be activated before students can
successfully engage with new learning.
Based on this theory, delivery of a lecture can be planned
into following three sections (ABC of planning and delivery of
(a) Activation of the prior knowledge
This can be done in a number of ways such as asking
questions, showing a video or a picture, sharing a clinical
(b) Building on the existing knowledge
Knowing the sequence of your lecture in the timetable and
asking questions helps to gauge students’ level of previous
knowledge about the subject and provides the foundation to
further develop on that level. Help students to link the new
information with the existing knowledge, e.g. by asking
students to recall the physiological functions of thyroid
hormones and then think about the possible symptoms and
signs that can arise because of the deficiency of these
hormones in a newborn baby.
Many students experience difficulty with the new termi-
nology as one student put it ‘words that I have never heard in
my life and you must understand that word before you can go
on’ (Brown & Manogue 2001). Do not assume that students
know all the terminology. List down and describe the new
terms in the beginning of the lecture and explain them again
when you use them first time.
Plan ahead and choose appropriate words and examples to
promote understanding, critical thinking, problem solving and
foster self-directed learning.
(c) Consolidation of new knowledge
Summarise the important points at appropriate intervals
during the lecture as well as at the end of the lecture.
Emphasise the key points, show the links within the lecture
topic and in between the topics. This helps students to
clarify any doubts, compare their understanding and compre-
hension with that of the lecturer and consolidate their
Assist students to determine the scope (breadth and
depth) of the topic
Lecturer should declare the learning outcomes (LOs) for each
session at the beginning of the class. LOs identify significant
and essential learning that students’ would achieve and be able
to demonstrate at the end of the session. LOs help students to
focus their attention in the right direction and act as the bench
mark for students to judge whether or not they have learned
successfully what they were supposed to learn.
Outcomes help students to organise and understand new
subject matter. To highlight this aspect, McMillan (2007)
quoted a student ‘she (lecturer) came into the class and she
told us, ‘‘This is what I want you to know and we are going to
focus on that’’’. This approach helps to get the overall picture
Effective lecturing in a PBL curriculum
and focus on the points which students need to figure out –
thus giving students the opportunity to identify their learning
needs based on their existing knowledge.
LOs of a lecture have to be in line with the overall LOs of
the course. They should be just right for the session – not too
many to overwhelm or too few to pose a challenge to the
students. In both of these situations, students would lose
interest in the session.
Some of our students commented ‘Lecture (content)
was too much for one hour. (We) propose that lecturer
should just stress on the learning outcomes first and only then
should give any extra information’. ‘So much information
Help students to see the relevance of their learning
A keystone of achieving meaningful learning is that the
students’ recognise the content to be relevant. PBL helps to
eliminate much of the irrelevant and outdated teaching
currently cluttering undergraduate or basic training pro-
grammes (Davis & Harden 1999).
Hodgson (1984) described three qualitatively different
experiences of relevance: extrinsic experience, intrinsic expe-
rience and vicarious experience. Vicarious experience relates
to the teacher’s enthusiasm and interest in the subject and the
ability to bring the content to life, encouraging something
similar to intrinsic experience. Hence the way the lecturer acts
and handles situations in lecture directly influences students’
perception of relevance.
Starting the lecture topic with a problem/scenarios/reality-
based situation, helps in revealing the relevance. For example,
beginning with a problem of a baby born with ambiguous
genitalia (may show a picture), might arouse interest among
the students to learn about the steps involved in steroid
biosynthetic pathway, which otherwise may not be an
engaging topic for students. Ascertaining horizontal and
vertical integration in the lecture also brings relevance to the
information (Malik & Malik 2011).
Address all learning styles and intelligences
Learning style of medical students has relevance for medical
educators, medical administrators and medical students them-
selves. Adapting learning tasks and teaching methods to
students’ learning styles and preferences improves their
learning and attitudes (Henke 1996).
There are at least three different learning styles that play
role in education: affective, learning and cognitive (Curry
1999). Chapman and Calhoun (2006) defined five learning
Three modalities of learning have been identified: visual,
auditory and kinaesthetic. Visual learners prefer written,
graphic and electronic visual media. Auditory learners favour
the spoken words to visual materials. Kinaesthetic learners
learn best when the learning involves them in physical activity.
Learners will usually display a mixture of the three learning
styles although one may predominate (Ramani & Leinster
Gardner in 1983 presented the concept of multiple intel-
ligences which has influenced the approach to teaching at all
levels. The concept of multiple intelligences promotes multiple
methods of teaching. A subject matter can be explained in
many different ways to cater for students who have different
intelligences such as deductive approach for logical-mathe-
matical intelligence and narrative approach for linguistic
Teachers who alter instructions to accommodate individual
differences send the message that they want to reach all of
their students. Students are much more likely to participate
actively in learning when they know that their teacher has
carefully considered their needs.
Proper use of audiovisual media will cater for different
learning styles and multiple intelligences. However, it should
be used carefully as sometimes it produces mental dazzle or
sleep rather than intellectual enlightenment.
Promote deep learning and critical thinking
If lectures are merely reciting standard texts then they are not
fulfilling their function of developing understanding and
motivating students to learn, a most widely accepted merit of
PBL approach (Davis & Harden 1999).
Evidence (Bligh 2000) shows that students recall and
understand better the presentations that are based on learning
principles and contain a little detail than those containing
Explaining is one of the most important skills in teaching.
Common types of explanations in lectures are interpretive
(what?), descriptive (how?) and reason-giving (why?). Our
students requested ‘Lecturers must explain —– instead of
wanting to finish it as fast as possible’.
Effective explanations use precise pointing at diagrams and
naming of parts, simple definitions, simple sentences, empha-
sis of key points, apt examples, guiding images, metaphors,
analogies, repetitions and paraphrasing key points and clear
transitions from one subtopic to the next (Land 1985; Brophy &
A common complaint in medical education is that many
students struggle to apply in the clinical context what they
have learnt theoretically (DePoala & Slavkin 2004; Kalkwarf
et al. 2005). One way to overcome this problem is to
explain the concept and then ask students to apply that
concept in a relevant situation, e.g. solving a problem. For
example, after explaining the cardiac circulation ask students
to describe the haemodynamics in a child with ventricular
Share your personal experiences. This is the information
only you can provide; student cannot find this knowledge
from anywhere else. It will help to sustain students’ atten-
tion and help them to comprehend the concept under
A. S. Malik & R. H. Malik
Let students help you improve your lecture
If you want students to learn from your lecture you must gain
and sustain their attention. Telling a story of a patient or
sharing experiences captures the imagination of the stu-
dents and deepens their understanding. Examples based
on real patients or problems are more likely to be recalled
than straight theory or detailed findings (Brown & Manogue
If the language of instruction is not the first language of the
students (as is the case in our situation), make sure they
understand what you are saying. Speak clearly, slowly and
ensure that students are following. Check it by asking
questions occasionally. The minute the students fail to
understand they would wonder in their thoughts. In their
feedback, our students pleaded ‘please do not teach (speak)
too fast’. To address such situations in which most of the
students would not like to ‘embarrass’ the lecturers, the
members of the Faculty of Medicine, UiTM during the CSFL&L
decided to follow the concept of ‘student committee’
(McKeachie & Svinicki 2006) and suggested to choose few
specifically instructed students to indicate to the lecturer
(during the lecture) to slow down and repeat or re-explain a
particular section or a point.
Students also reported that lecturers who write everything
on their slides and read it all or just read from a piece of paper
make it difficult for them to learn.
Effective lecturers speak clearly and make eye contact with
learners. McMillan (2007) reported a student’s comments ‘One
lecturer kept his back to us, spoke for an hour, switched the
overhead off and left. I did not understand what was going on’.
Encourage application of knowledge and teamwork
Important aspects of meaningful learning include activity, pre-
understanding and importance of context of knowledge
(Hounsell 1984). Including activities in the lectures can serve
. Activities which require the application of knowledge will
provide evidence if students have understood and compre-
hended the lecture.
. Lectures can induce passivity and compliance. By includ-
ing activity lectures are no more passive methods of
. Students’ attention fluctuates throughout one-hour lecture.
After 20 minutes there is marked decline in attention
followed by a peak attention just before the lecture ends
(Biggs 1999; Bligh 2000). This decline in attention is less
likely to occur if the lecture includes some sort of activities
for students (McMillan 2007).
. By varying student activities during a lecture one can renew
their attention, generate interest, provide opportunities for
students to think and obtain some feedback of their
There are different types of activities that can be intro-
duced. Students may be asked to solve a mini-problem in
groups of three or four, applying the information that they
have just learned. They may be shown a video clip, asked to
answer multiple choice questions or frame questions in
relation to the data given, think of examples involving the
application of data and compare with their colleagues, list
advantages or disadvantages of a particular procedure or
approach. This exercise will also promote team work among
students; another important attribute of PBL curriculum (Davis
& Harden 1999).
However introduction of activities will leave less time for
the lecturers to talk which may not be an issue if aim is to focus
on concepts and comprehension rather than imparting minute
details and facts.
The lecturers at Faculty of Medicine, UiTM, decided that in
a 1 hour session up to 40 minutes may be spent in lecturing,
5–10 minutes in activities, 5–10 minutes in questions and
discussion and another 5 minutes in reflection at the end of the
Use multiple modes of communication
Lectures used only to provide detailed coverage of facts and
findings are uninteresting. Instead students may gain more
from reading good textbooks than attending such lectures.
You can generate interest by
. showing your own interest/commitment to the topic by
. using examples, analogies, metaphors and models which
are apt for the audience and the topic;
. using mixture of modes of explaining;
. playing on intellectual curiosity of students through the use
of puzzles, problems and questions and
. enthusiasm, friendliness, humour and a conversational style
improves expressiveness and generates interest among
Well-presented and colourful audiovisual aids sustain
attention and improve understanding by increasing clarity
Illustrations, diagrams, bullet points and summaries should
be simple and brief. Crowded slides with small or complicated
fonts disengage students. As our students pointed out,
‘Students on the back seats cannot read what is written on
Just reading from slides without explaining does not catch
the attention of the students. ‘Sometimes there are lecturers
that only read the slides without explaining’. ‘The (number of)
slides must be reduced, if a lecture has a lot of slides we tend
Your pronunciation should not be too alien to students.
Speaking slowly and clearly helps students to understand
different pronunciations. The words that are difficult to
understand pronunciation can be written on the slides or
Effective lecturing in a PBL curriculum
Audiovisual recordings, and films can be effective ways of
developing understanding but their excessive use can induce
sleep. One should indicate which features of the recording
should be attended to. Posing questions for the students to
answer, while watching the audiovisual materials, would
help them to focus on relevant parts. Harden (1983) identi-
fied factors that need to be taken into account when
selecting most appropriate medium to present a problem to
students but several are also relevant to presentations such as
Be a vigilant facilitator
If learning is the active construction of meaning, teaching can
then be defined as the facilitation of learning (Davis & Harden
Schmidt and Moust (1995) found that personal qualities
of facilitators, ‘such as the ability to communicate with
students in an informal way, an emphatic attitude and the
creation of an atmosphere in which the open exchange of
ideas is facilitated’, seem to be important in promoting
During a lecture, apart from taking notes, students’
responses also consist of reactions to the lecture and lecturer.
The immediate reactions are usually non-verbal signals. Such
signals provide the basis for the responsiveness of the lecturer
to the audience.
To an experienced lecturer, it is very obvious if students are
not paying attention any more, most of them are sleepy or
have lost interest. At this point, it would be useless to continue
delivering lecture – try different methods to bring students’
attention back in the class room – may be by giving 5 minute
break or stretching or changing the topic to some light
moments or introducing an activity.
Motivate students to identify their own learning
Apart from LOs (tip 3), identification of learning needs also
helps students to find out the breadth and depth of a topic they
are expected to learn. Identification of their learning needs by
students themselves is a main feature of PBL approach (Davis
& Harden 1999).
Many students depend on lecture notes. As our students
requested ‘We would be very grateful if the lecturer would at
least let us have some time to take down the lecture notes —-
we need to write something during the lecture so that we can
use it as reference material later’.
Many of our students, for whom English, the language of
instruction, is not the first language, described how they
struggled with the triple challenge of listening to a lecture,
understanding the content and simultaneously taking notes.
They demanded that they should be given handouts to
overcome this problem. Lecturers on the other hand thought
that giving handouts discourage students to study from other
resources – most of the students use only the handouts to learn
which obviously are not adequate and cannot replace
textbooks and other resources.
Lecturers at Faculty of Medicine, UiTM, during a CSFL&L
decided to give interactive handouts to the students before the
Hartley (1994) suggests that interactive handouts are better
than other forms for aiding recall and understanding.
Interactive handouts contain skeletal notes and diagrams that
the students have to complete during the lecture. These can be
reduced versions or the PowerPoint slides used with space for
students to write their own notes.
Giving some questions before the lecture helps students to
focus on essentials of the lecture and leaving students with
some challenging questions may stimulate them to learn more
about the topic. Research on pre-questions (advanced orga-
nisers) shows that questions help students learn from texts
The concept of PBL emphasises that the students’ own
questions should be the driving force for their learning.
Reflective learning is another desirable attribute for active and
meaningful learning. Asking students to deliberate on the
following questions at the end of the lecture may address these
important aspects of active learning.
. What have you learned from this lecture?
. What else would you like to learn about this topic (learning
. How are you going to learn about your learning needs
(selection of learning resources, methods of learning)?
. When are you going to learn your learning needs?
. What is the evidence that you have learned your learning
Reflect on your lecture and role
It has been found that teachers tend to fall back to their usual
teaching habits if they feel uncomfortable in the new teaching
roles (Gijselaers 1997). To reduce this effect, repeated evalu-
ations and willingness to revise is likely to be helpful. Student
ratings of lectures are useful but over-used and limited ways of
evaluating lectures. Peer reviews are also of equal importance
and can be provided mutually. More important than either of
these is reflection on the practice of lecturing by individuals
and course teams (Brown & Manogue 2001).
However, all these approaches are helpful only if the
lecturers want to improve their teaching methods.
At the end of the lecture ask yourself the following
. Did students ask questions? Were some of these questions
. Did I enjoy the session?
. Do I have a feeling of fulfilment?
If the answer is yes, then it is likely that you have delivered
a great lecture.
A. S. Malik & R. H. Malik
Although many medical schools have been through profound
changes in the curriculum design and delivery, the traditional
lecture still remains as one of the most widely used instruc-
tional methods in the medical education (Harden & Crosby
Delivering lectures in PBL curriculum is not like didactic
lectures of traditional curriculum. An interactive lecture is more
in line with the notions of knowledge and learning in PBL.
Students are asked to actively participate and process infor-
mation thought out the session. They also take an active part in
contextualising the content.
This article highlights the ways of making the traditional
lectures PBL-compliant as well as effective. These tips suggest
a lecture format supported by learning theories that underpin
PBL as an educational philosophy, realising that important
aspects of meaningful learning include activity, pre-under-
standing and importance of context of knowledge (Hounsell
1984; Masunga et al. 2011).
We would like lecturers to discuss the aims of lectures in
PBL and reflect on their own lectures in relation to the
curriculum based on PBL. We have highlighted the ways that
would prevent the lectures from reversing into traditional
These tips incorporate the following attributes of the PBL
into a lecture.
. Engagement of students in the decision-making process
about the teaching/learning activities and ground rules.
. Teaching/learning process based on modern learning
. Involvement of students in determining the breadth and
depth of the topic to be learned and identification of the
. Highlighting the relevance of the learning with the future
practice of medicine.
. Deep learning; emphasising on understanding rather than
memorising; clarifying concepts.
. Participation of all the students in the learning process.
. Promotion of application of knowledge and team work.
. Boosting intrinsic motivation, critical thinking and problem
. Information searching and self-directed learning.
Even though these tips help to prepare and deliver a lecture
that supports meaningful learning, it can never compete with
the small group learning when it comes to responding to
individual’s learning process. There are many processes in
small group, which are never, or to a minimal degree,
addressed in large group. Being able to give and receive
feedback, working on one’s own learning strategies and
critically examining and reflecting on sources are some of the
examples. However lectures can complement the small groups
and support a deep approach in learning.
If lectures are the only method of teaching then the
students are not being well-prepared for their future roles. A
rich diversity of teaching methods is necessary for a domain
as complex as the health of human beings and their
Declaration of interest: The authors report no conflicts of
Notes on contributors
ALAM SHER MALIK, MBBS DTCH DipMedEd, is a Professor of Paediatrics
and Coordinator of Medical Education Research and Development Unit, at
Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam, Malaysia. He
has helped a number of medical schools locally and abroad in developing
RUKHSANA HUSSAIN MALIK, MBBS MMedED, is a Senior Lecturer and
Curriculum Coordinator at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi
MARA, Shah Alam, Malaysia. She has played an active role in the
development of curricula of a number of medical schools in Malaysia and
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