Teaching in the Oral Tradition

My Buddhist Traditions professor assigned us to answer the following questions in up to 150 words: If you wanted to carefully pass on the content of a long talk without being able to tape it or write anything down, how might you go about doing so by purely oral methods? What difficulties might you face?


The central difficulty of exclusively oral transmission is that human beings only retain about 15% of what they hear!  As a college professor, I have found three ways to improve that percentage.  First, I have students repeat aloud short, key definitions and lists.  I do this periodically over a long lecture, and throughout the course.  Second, I use mnemonics.  A common mnemonic technique is to arrange a list so that the first letter of each item spells out a word.  For example, the terms of a contract must contain Q-TIPS: Quantity, Time of performance, Identity of the parties, Price, and Subject matter.  Third, I use examples, as I just demonstrated.

All this notwithstanding, my lectures will vary based on my audience.  The core concepts remain the same, but the amount of repetition and the examples used vary widely depending on my students’ educational and cultural backgrounds.

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