Why Students Should Not Learn From Lecture Slides Only

Some students prepare for exams by using the lecture slides only. This is highly problematic on many accounts and a recipe for failure in an exam.

First, a good course has a clear learning objective; the extent to which you achieved that objective is measured in an exam, be it oral or written. The learning objective is typically conceptual like “gain intermediate-level competence and skills for software system analysis using UML” or “learn and practice agile methods on an advanced level”.

In general, learning the lecture slides is only a small part of what a student should do to achieve the learning objective and ultimately do well in an exam.

The slides from a course, typically from lectures in that course, excerpt only a part of the relevant knowledge (and obviously provide no particular skills and experiential competence). It is smart to look at the slides because they are an expression of how a lecturer thinks about the topic, but nevertheless they are only a small part of the content defined by the learning objective.

For one, they are only a small part because they are typically less comprehensive than an appropriate textbook. So a student should also be following the lecturer’s recommendation and work with a book or other materials, either as guided by the lecturer or in self-study. Such self-study helps a student deepen their understanding and works towards achieving the learning objectives. Students may want to do this in a team.

How much self-study? Here is the math for a 4 SWS / 5 ECTS lecture like PSWT. 4 SWS equals 60h of work. 5 ECTS equals 150h of work. Thus, next to attending class for 60h in total a student should be performing additional self-study work of 90h in a given semester. That self-study should involve deepening their understanding of the week’s course content, but also should involve going beyond that.

Why would a student go beyond what was said in the lectures? As stated above, the lectures themselves can only address a subset of what students need to understand to fully achieve the learning objective. Students should think about it in mathematical terms: What they need to understand is a multi-dimensional space, and a lecturer can only provide you with an understanding of the fundamental dimensions of that space. Combining the dimensions and fully exploring the space is ultimately up to the student. It is called “transfer” or put more basic, “thinking for yourself”.

This, ultimately, is what a lecturer hopes to achieve: To teach a student to think for him or herself and be able to apply what they learned in new situations. Emancipating a student with knowledge and competence to solve problems that were not addressed in class but fit the learning objective. A student can’t learn this from slides. A student can only learn this from applying themselves to the topic and exploring the space actively. Thus, exams, which are supposed to determine how well a student achieved a learning objective, at the high end explore the extent to which a student is able to solve problems on their own.