How Do Mini-Lectures Improve Student Engagement?

September 12, 2022

By Jennifer Albat and Sarah Laux (Instructional Design & Learning Technologies)

At the September 7 Midweek Mentor session, Dr. Christy Price, a professor of psychology at Dalton State College, presented 10 tips for making mini-lectures to improve student engagement:

1. Lectures must be “mini” and avoid a lecture-only format. In How the Brain Learns, David A. Sousa points to evidence that lecture, despite being a primary teaching method in higher education, provides the “lowest degree of retention for most learners.” In Student Engagement Techniques, Elizabeth Barkley recommends utilizing psychology of motivation during the first half of class time followed by instruction strategies in the second half. Additionally, lectures should remain brief: roughly 5 to 15 minutes, depending on level and content. Common presentation programs and aids, such as PowerPoint, may create information and cognitive overload when not utilized effectively as students attempt to take notes, listen, and view information on the screen.

2. Utilize guided note-taking to improve information processing. While there are many effective ways to take notes, cognitive psychologists deem lectures and traditional note-taking, when paired, are switch-tasking and can cause students to feel overwhelmed, reducing their memory processing. A lecture guide providing the main objectives or concepts of the lecture can help students to remain more engaged and focused on the content being discussed.

3. Use visuals to enhance memory. While a slide deck may be beneficial to organize a presentation and create a visual, avoid overuse of bullet points, text, and small images. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is a good resource to learn about the best practices of presentation slide design.

4. Establish relevance in your lecture. Focus only on the most important information and explain why it is relevant to the students or the course.

5. Exhibit enthusiasm in the mini-lecture. As Donald Bligh explains in What’s the Use of Lectures?, enthusiasm is contagious. If you are excited by the topic, your students most likely will be too.

6. Create mystery.

7. Embed surprise.

8. Evoke positive emotion with humor.

Tips 6, 7, and 8 are key to grabbing students’ attention and holding it throughout the lecture. In How the Brain Learns, Sousa describes the brain as “novelty seeking”, requiring new experiences and information to most effectively stimulate our memory. Educational videos from TV shows and movies are a great way to add relevance, conceptualization, and engagement. ClassHook is a good resource to explore for this content.

9. Pause and ask questions. You may already do this in your classroom. Stopping your lecture to ask questions allows for interaction and information processing. This aids in the cognitive process of moving information from working memory to long-term memory. You may formalize this process by using a technology such as Poll Everywhere for synchronous lectures or quizzes in YuJa for pre-recorded, asynchronous lectures.

10. Review Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Angelo and Cross. This text illustrates a variety of engagement strategies including the minute paper, think-pair-share, and the muddiest point for active learning strategies and assessment techniques.

We hope the tips outlined above provide beneficial strategies for making mini-lectures work in your courses. If you would like to explore and discuss any of these in further detail, please contact the Instructional Design & Learning Technologies at

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