I understand the main difference is the amount of active engagement of the students (questions, interaction, etc.). But is there more, to describe the difference?

In a lecture there will be questions and answers, and in a seminar there will be times when the teacher talks. So, how can we describe the difference in a more articulate way.

  • 1
    What definitions do you have so far? So we don't duplicate...
    – Solar Mike
    Mar 13, 2019 at 12:31
  • Mostly, what I have so far is that the participation of students/audience makes the difference: it is little in the lecture and substantial in the seminar.
    – Fabio
    Mar 13, 2019 at 15:17
  • Ad your first sentence: that's a false premise. I've seen lectures with hundreds, but also with a few participants. I've seen seminars with a few, but also hundreds participants. So differentiation based on number of participants doesn't make sense.
    – user68958
    Mar 13, 2019 at 17:57
  • @corey979 Sorry, I am not a native speaker, with "participation" I meant "the amount of active intervention of the students".
    – Fabio
    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:51
  • 1
    The fine details can be very different country by country, and context also can make a difference. Generally, lectures are given by teachers, profs, PIs, while seminars are often built on the talks by students (eg on assigned topics). Again, context matters, there are other situations, too.
    – Greg
    Mar 15, 2019 at 3:46

1 Answer 1


Both of them can cover a wide range of events, and there’s a big overlap in their usage. So there’s no clear cut-and-dried line between the two. The typical usage of them varies between fields, countries, and individual institutions or evengs; I’ve known things which were called a seminar at one place that would have been called lectures at another. That said, trying to set down the differences in what they’re typically used to mean:

  • as you say, a lecture usually means less interaction — typically one person lecturing at the front of the room, perhaps taking questions from the audience. A seminar can be like this, but can more often also involve more substantial interaction, up to general discussion.

  • a lecture typically has more difference in expertise between the lecturer and audience: a professor lecturing to students, a professional to a lay audience, or an expert on some topic to researchers who aren’t necessarily specialists in it. A seminar is more likely to have its presenter as a “first among equals”.

  • some more specific senses: a coherent series of talks presenting a single topic is usually called a lecture course; a one-off general-audience talk is usually called a public lecture; a regular series of research-level talks is more likely to be called a seminar series, or a research seminar.

Again, these are all differences in typical usage; I’ve seen most of these tendencies broken sometimes, and I’m sure that beyond my experience (mathematics and computer science, in Western Europe and North America) their usage varies more widely still. But these are a start.

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