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Much debate has generated over the issue of Spoon-Feeding. What is spoon-feeding? Are we spoon-feeding our students? Do they expect us to do so? Is spoon-feeding necessarily harmful? Can we break away from it? These are some of the issues discussed at the CDTL workshop on spoon-feeding held on 30 October 1999. In this issue of CDTL Brief, we present several viewpoints on this topic and the concerns raised at the workshop.

May 2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Spoon-Feeding in Higher Education
Associate Professor Rethy K. Chhem
Department of Diagnostic Radiology

Many educational situations can be defined as ‘spoon-feeding’ and it occurs most commonly in traditional lectures, small-group teaching sessions or seminars when the teacher deliberately provides the answers to students’ questions, etc. In short, ‘spoon-feeding’ is the situation where the teacher acts as a knowledge dispenser for passive students. The teaching here is centred on the teacher at the expense of the students’ learning process.

Why is Spoon-Feeding So Popular?

The lecture is not the only learning situation where spoon-feeding occurs, but it is the most common situation. That is why the advantages and limitations of the lecture will be described and discussed in this article.

  1. A lecture is short and needs little preparation, as the lecturer is the expert in the field in which he teaches. A ‘good’ lecture that has been prepared according to the traditional rules and delivered by a ‘good’ lecturer is still considered one of the best teaching methods.

  2. Once a lecture is delivered, there is no need for lengthy preparation for the following academic year, except the need for some updates.

  3. Lectures are economic and cost effective because one lecturer can deliver the course content to a large class, up to several hundreds of students.

  4. Students like the traditional lecture because there is no need for active effort. The only skills required are to be able to take notes, memorise the information to be regurgitated at the exam, and hopefully get the expected marks. Therefore, this process is also economic and cost effective for the students in terms of effort for information treatment.

  5. In most teaching situations, including lectures and other spoon-feeding conditions, giving the answer to students’ questions is good for the teacher’s ego, as he is perceived as the one who knows. In addition, the process is quick and costs the teacher very little in terms of time and commitment.

What are the Limitations of Spoon-Feeding?

  1. Spoon-feeding does not stimulate active participation from the students and only fosters rote learning.

  2. Spoon-feeding does not promote independent learning and creativity.

  3. Students lack initiative and problem-solving skills because they have not been trained to search for data by themselves.

Why is It So Difficult to Implement Active Learning Methods in Higher Education?

Lecturers have learned to teach by observing their own teachers, generation after generation, without formal training in educational methods, thus teaching the way they were taught. Therefore, most students have been exposed to the same widespread technique of spoon-feeding, and have become totally dependent on the lecturer to deliver information. Because of this tradition, both students and lecturers would resist any major changes in this habit.

To overcome this, seminars and workshops are necessary to make students and lecturers aware of alternative methods of active teaching and their respective advantages and limitations.

What are the Alternatives to Spoon-Feeding?

For the promoters of active learning, many teaching and learning methods can supplement traditional lectures or the tendency of lecturers to give the answers to students’ questions. The main paradigm shift here is to put responsibility for learning on the students themselves and to ask lecturers to train students to find the answers to their enquiries by themselves, using learning resources like the library, electronic databases, or the Internet. Therefore, the focus of teaching is to train students to assess their own educational needs, to search for relevant information, and to develop their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Teaching methods that foster active learning, as opposed to spoon-feeding are many and include interactive lectures, small-group discussions, seminars, project work, problem-based learning, etc.

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Inside this issue
Spoon-Feeding in 'Do' Disciplines
Spoon-Feeding in Higher Education
Avoiding Spoon-Feeding: The Creative Teaching of Geography
Issues Discussed at the Q-&-A Session (at the 30 October 1999 CDTL Workshop)