Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?

Some thoughts about change—not so much what to change, as the process of change, offered in light of its slow occurrence.
Yes, lecture is a good example. In a recent survey, 275 econ faculty who teach principles courses reported they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time. The article cites studies in that field from the mid-’90s reporting similar percentages. Maybe some other fields have changed more, but evidence supports a continuing reliance on lecture in many fields.
However, lecture isn’t the only example of where we’re slow to change. Many aspects of teaching—course design, approaches to testing, assignments, and grading—have also changed little. Granted, some faculty do change, a lot and regularly, but not the majority. The question is, “Why?” Here are some possibilities I’ve been considering.
Change is harder than we think. We are so vested in our teaching, and, like our students, we are error averse. Try something new, and there’s a risk of failure. There’s risk with what we do every day, but it feels safer to go with the tried and true. And most of the time, what’s new has to be revised, tweaked, and further refined. First time through, it doesn’t go as smoothly as what we’re used to doing.
The work in cognitive psychology on the use of deliberate practice to develop expertise is relevant here. It’ …