I have seen few people who learn better(or mostly) by reading textbooks themselves in private as that gives them more time to think back and forth about the material. While there are other students who are quick at grasping things transmitted orally like in a lecture and despise reading it through books. Few of the former even have this habit of not being able to learn at all sitting in a class as lesser time is devoted to discussion on a particular topic and the lecturer tries best to move to the next topic as quickly as possible(not always though). So should those who like to learn on their own through books be guilty for not attending classes(mandatory like in bachelors or masters programs) since they are anyway not going to assimilate much and it will be waste of time?

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    Hi physicsenthusiasist, the question as it is currently phrased sounds more like a rhetorical question, which is not really what this Q&A site is about. Do you have a practical, answerable question behind it? (like “as a teacher, how to I handle students who prefer to learn on their own” or “as a student who prefers to learn on her own, how do I convince my university/professors/supervisors that it is okay for me to skip classes?”)
    – F'x
    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:14
  • Yes. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But it shouldn't affect their grade.
    – JeffE
    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:32
  • Based on what I've learned in my academic life, you do not learn anything until you think about it. So the main issue is how listening to teacher, self study, or better involvement in a research work stimulates you to think actively about the subject. Again based my experience, do not feel guilty for not attending classes which are taught by people who have not thought about the subject very much. Not only it is a waste of time, but also it is the main source of all kinds of confusions.
    – user4511
    Oct 2, 2013 at 12:02
  • Lectures have a specific pace that makes them boring to me. With a book I can set the speed to whatever I want (usually faster), I usually do the same thing with videolectures, up to 1.2x the English is still understandable, and still boring, although not so much. Just to provide a different perspective.
    – Trylks
    Oct 2, 2013 at 12:17

2 Answers 2


You are operating on the false assumption that class time equates to "lecture". There are other things to do with class time, which may be valuable to the book-learner.

In the lecture-based undergrad classes I teach, I do not take attendance (which becomes impractical anyway as class sizes increase). Students are paying for my time, and they can do with it what they want. They have assignments that need to be completed by certain due dates - some online and some that need to be submitted in class. If they are earning good grades, I let them do whatever. If they are doing poorly, I intervene, but one-on-one.

If the course in question is discussion- or activity-based, then the students should not be excused. These types of courses are not content-based (think General Chemistry), but issue-based (Racial Inequality in American Politics) or skill-based (Introduction to Public Speaking). Again, I would not take attendance, but a majority of the students' grades will be for in-class activities - discussions about case studies or issues, group presentations, individual presentations, peer-lead team learning, active and hands-on learning, demonstrations by students, etc. In these cases the student is heavily penalized by not attending class. In the class on public speaking, perhaps each student is graded as follows: 1) three short in-class oral presentations (20% of the overall grade each); 2) a written critical reflection on their presentations as a final paper (20% of the final grade total); and 3) critical analysis of presentations made by 2 classmates (10% of the final grade each). This student needs to be in class, or he/she will be unable to do 100% of the graded work!

In all cases I firmly believe in placing the responsibility on the student. Just as the student needs to be responsible for the assignments, for studying, and ultimately for earning the final grade, the student needs to be responsible for the decision to come to class. If the student wants to skip class, the student can skip as long as the student knows that there will be real (missed assignments) and implied penalties (missed opportunities to comprehend the material better). The instructor's responsibility is not to ensure that students learn. It is to create an environment where learning can happen and to provide guidance and feedback about how successful that learning is.


"Readers" and "Listeners" is a well-known categorization regarding the main method through which a person learns. But it is one thing to acknowledge this fact, and it is a different thing to argue that any person that is learning mainly through one method, should altogether abandon the other. To take your example, if I am a "Reader", then participating in oral presentations will shed light on aspects of my reading that will never illuminate themselves. I will listen to questions that otherwise I wouldn't realize that I also had, and maybe when I would, I could not be able to answer them myself and through my books. I will listen to interpretations that I hadn't thought of. Etc, etc, etc: live interaction with other human brains does not substitute for deep reading - but it can not be replaced by the latter either. They are, simply, fully complementary.

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