Which comes first - Theory or laboratory experiment? Conference Paper uri icon


  • The positive effects of laboratory exercise on engineering education are well recognized. To enhance student learning, many engineering technology courses include laboratory experiments. Traditionally, the students are introduced to the theories first. The lectures are then followed by laboratory activities. However, the timing of the laboratory sessions with respect to that of the lectures may influence student learning. In a reverse sequence, giving students opportunities to conduct experiments before presenting the theories may improve or impede learning. This paper presents an effort in investigating the effects of lecture-laboratory timing on student learning. In a Fluid Power Technology course, a group of students were taught in the traditional "theory first" approach. Another group of students were assigned to conduct experiments before attending the lecture (the "experiment first" approach). It was found that there is no significant difference in student performance between the two groups. The same arrangement was made in a Non-Metallic Materials and a Strength of Materials courses. In addition to the regular assessment, surveys were conducted to inquire students' learning style and their preference. Preliminary results showed that while most of the students are indifference, some students prefer a specific "theory first" or "experiment first" approach. It is believed that depending on the course type and the student learning style, learning could be affected by the teaching approach. Further study on the lecture-laboratory timing that could lead to an effective pedagogy is recommended. 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.

published proceedings

  • ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings

author list (cited authors)

  • Wang, J., Fang, A., & Michael, G. M.

complete list of authors

  • Wang, J||Fang, A||Michael, GM

publication date

  • January 2011