are the backbone of the education system in America, and the police academy is no exception. While I like to highlight the increased value of active learning, the lecture will always have a place in the learning process. Lecture can be an excellent method to convey information when it is done well; however, active learning – which requires students to discover, discuss, demonstrate, and explain the information – is more suited to our audience. The two methods should be combined by the police instructor to create Spellbinding Lectures.

“I hear and I forget. I see, I remember.
I do, I understand.” ~Confucius

Confucius was onto something. Knowing the learning styles of most cops and cadets, we can add to his declaration for the police instructor.

  • When I only hear information, I may forget some. (Lecture)
  • When I hear and see information, I will remember. (Add videos, pictures, and images to the lecture)
  • When I hear, see, discuss, and question the information, I understand. (Add group exercises to the lecture)
  • When I demonstrate and teach others the information, I become proficient and skillful. (Add students teaching exercises and activities to the lecture)

Lecturing is still the most efficient way to impart knowledge and communicate large amounts of material in a short amount of time, but that does not mean that everyone is retaining that knowledge or is even awake. For the younger generation of law enforcers, who have grown up in an active world filled with attention-grabbing commercials and video games, a lecture can be painful.

Learning is not guaranteed just because we pour out information on a particular topic. Active lectures emphasize the real world in a classroom, something our audience needs. The involvement of our audience is necessary before any real learning can occur. With active involvement, the student is seeking an answer to a question, or information to solve a group problem, or a technique necessary to perform a skill.

Any teaching method can be good or bad depending on how that method is applied, and lecturing is the best possible method in some instances. We need to lecture with three learning domains in mind: the “head” (knowing), the “heart” (feeling), and the “hands” (doing).

Heads, Hearts, & Hands

Bloom’s Taxonomy breaks the objectives into three domains: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor.

Skills in the cognitive domain (the head), revolve around knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking of a particular topic. Giving a quiz would require the student’s to access their cognitive domain. Skills in the affective domain (the heart), include emotional reactions and empathy. Talking to cadets about the results of child abuse or another particularly emotional subject would rouse this domain. Skills in the psychomotor domain (the hands) are identified by the ability to physically manipulate a tool or instrument. Teaching a cadet the proper way to load and fire a gun would be one way to stimulate this domain.

Demonstrating for the class how to search a prisoner only reaches their cognitive domain (the head). But when the students demonstrate the same technique on each other, a psychomotor skill (the hands) can be developed. While skills associated with the psychomotor domain are retained at high levels in the brain, repetition is still the key. Showing a video of a jailer being stabbed by a prisoner who was poorly searched will also connect their affective domain (the heart) to round off the learning experience.

If you want to be effective as an instructor, think along the lines of Bloom when you are lecturing. If we involve these three areas in our lectures – using different techniques and exercises – we will produce a better class of guardians for society.

Keep them Moving

Anytime we can get our students moving around, it increases their potential to learn and serves to keep their heads off the table – both are of interest to instructors. Dr. David A. Sousa is a consultant in educational neuroscience whose research has provided educators with strategies for improving student learning by simple physical interaction. “It seems that the more we study the [brain], the more we realize that movement is inescapably linked to learning” (Sousa, 2000). The Richipedia interpretation: Get cadets moving around, and it will kick their brains into gear.

“Today’s brain, mind and body research establishes significant links between movement and learning. Educators ought to be purposeful about integrating movement activities into daily learning (Jensen, 1998)”. This research should inspire us to keep our lecture active whether by having a cadet fill in the blanks on a worksheet or by having them demonstrate their newly acquired skills.

“By engaging active and emotional pathways (the ‘how’ and the ‘wow’), we supply an additional ‘hook’ for learning.” (Jensen and Dabney, 2000). In other words, physical activity and emotional content activate more of the brain, and that enhances retention.

A Nuclear Physicist’s Take on Lecture

Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) was an Italian-American physicist known for the development of the first nuclear reactor. He also made contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear physics, and statistical mechanics. He was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on induced radioactivity. Fermi is widely regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 20th century, and along with Robert Oppenheimer, he is frequently referred to as the father of the atomic bomb. All-in-all, he sounds like a smart guy. After attending a Physics lecture at the University of Chicago, he stated: “Before coming here, I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture, I’m still confused, but on a higher level.”

The essence of training is creating an experience that will provoke thought and learning. Training should be about learning the realities of law enforcement – not just learning information to pass a test. Real training cannot take place when the audience is asked to do nothing. A lecture must be conducted with the audience in mind, or anyone can feel lost, even a genius who is capable of inventing a nuclear bomb.

You can combine a variety of methods to provide cadets with a compelling lesson. Variety is the spice of life and the spice of Spellbinding Lectures. You can trick out your lecture and captivate any law enforcement audience by using examples, techniques, exercises, and methods that encourage active learning.

Richard Neil is LET’s Police Training Contributor. He is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law enforcement training resources –