Last Updated on 03/09/2023 by James Barron
This article delves into the significance of employing varied learning approaches to cater to the diverse needs of learners. It examines multiple teaching methods, including practical projects, group discussions, PowerPoint-based lectures, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Flipped Classroom, and Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL). Each method’s features, advantages, and challenges are discussed to provide educators with an encompassing view. The aim is to enhance understanding and adoption of these methodologies, ensuring educators can make informed decisions to maximise learning outcomes for all students.
The modern educational landscape is characterised by its diverse student population, each possessing unique learning preferences, strengths, and challenges. Gone are the days when a one-size-fits-all approach was considered adequate. Today’s educators are called upon to embrace a plethora of teaching methodologies, ensuring that every student’s individual needs are met. From the hands-on engagement of practical projects to the autonomous nature of Inquiry-Based Learning, teachers have an arsenal of strategies at their disposal. This article delves deep into several such approaches, evaluating their features, potential benefits, and inherent challenges. Drawing insights from practical experiences and scholarly references, the objective is to offer a comprehensive guide for educators striving to create a more inclusive, adaptive, and effective learning environment.
Meeting Individual Needs through Varied Learning Approaches
It is essential that teachers meet the individual needs of learners by using a variety of learning approaches. While teaching there are some learning approaches I use more than others, for example, I find that a practical project suits many of my classes, due to the hands-on nature of the subject. A practical project will generally be more interesting for students, especially if the project suits the individual or if they are able to choose the nature of their project. A project of a large scale will also support autonomous learning with students working independently, which may suit someone with autism. Due to the flexibility of a large project, it will allow the student to use a variety of learning preferences as they approach the project from different perspectives. There are negatives to a practical project, such as the large amount of time it will take students to complete, meaning that progress needs checking regularly to ensure they are progressing. If a project involves teams it is likely that conflicts will occur, requiring management to ensure learning is maintained.
Advantages of Group Discussions
A group discussion can be an excellent learning approach within my area as it allows students to share knowledge in a relaxed environment. Often particular students will be very knowledgeable of specific areas within computing, sharing this knowledge is beneficial for both them and others. A discussion can be excellent as it allows students to express themselves if they struggle with writing, possibly due to dyslexia. It is important that the discussion is effectively managed to ensure students do not digress into areas in which they are not learning the material effectively.
Disadvantages Associated with Group Discussions
Engaging in group discussions, while valuable for collaborative learning, presents its own set of challenges within an educational context. A predominant issue is the unequal participation levels among students, with a few dominant voices often overshadowing the rest. This inequity can lead to a lack of comprehensive input and can hinder the more reserved students from building confidence in expressing their thoughts. Furthermore, discussions without clear objectives can veer off-topic, resulting in lost instructional time and potentially leaving key learning points unaddressed. It’s also common for group dynamics to be influenced by interpersonal relationships, which can introduce bias and prevent objective discourse. Lastly, without appropriate moderation, discussions can devolve into debates or arguments, which may not only divert from the lesson’s goals but also create an unproductive or hostile learning environment.
Lecturing with PowerPoint: A Common Teaching Approach
Another learning approach I use on a regular basis is a lecture with a PowerPoint presentation, “it is a versatile resource which can combine text, graphics and multi-media content.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 72) This approach allows theoretical elements to be covered, with the added benefit of diagrams and imagery to illustrate concepts.
PowerPoint Pros and Cons
Another major benefit of the PowerPoint is the ability to include lecture notes; this allows the inclusion of a written transcript of the lecturer’s planned speech for the benefit of any students with hearing difficulties. Although there are many benefits to using a PowerPoint while lecturing, which is likely why PowerPoint has “become enormously popular as a teaching aid” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 72) there are negatives. PowerPoint is inherently linear in its delivery, although this can be overcome if the lecturer is comfortable with dynamically navigating throughout the presentation. Other negatives relate to how the PowerPoint presentation has been created, for example, a slide with too much content is difficult to consume, a PowerPoint that has too many slides or is overly long is commonly known as “death by PowerPoint”. It is important to consider these aspects while producing a PowerPoint presentation, for example, I also try to ensure that the time I spend using the PowerPoint and lecturing is brief and followed by a practical task, allowing students to implement the theory. This should appeal to a variety of learning preferences.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional approach that centres around presenting students with a complex real-world problem, without a predefined solution, encouraging them to research, collaborate, and come up with viable solutions on their own. The aim is to cultivate critical thinking, collaborative skills, and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Core Features of PBL:
- Real-world Context: The problems presented are grounded in real-world scenarios, making the learning experience more relevant and engaging for students.
- Student-centred Approach: In PBL, students are in the driver’s seat. They decide how to approach the problem, which resources to use, and how to structure their solution.
- Collaborative Learning: Students often work in groups during PBL sessions, fostering teamwork and communication skills.
- Facilitator Role: Unlike traditional teaching methods where the teacher is the central figure, in PBL, the teacher often acts as a facilitator. They guide the students when necessary but largely let the students navigate the problem-solving process.
Advantages of PBL:
- Deep Learning: PBL encourages students to delve deeper into topics and understand the underlying principles, rather than just memorising facts.
- Develops Lifelong Learning Skills: As students research and navigate challenges on their own, they develop skills that will serve them well beyond the classroom, like critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning.
- Enhances Group Dynamics and Soft Skills: Collaboration is at the heart of PBL. This approach helps students improve their teamwork, communication, and conflict-resolution skills.
Challenges of PBL:
- Requires More Preparation: Setting up a successful PBL environment can be more time-consuming and requires thorough planning to ensure the problem presented is both challenging and solvable within the constraints of the course.
- Assessment Complexity: Evaluating student performance can be more complex, as the teacher needs to assess both the end solution and the process students undertook.
- Potential for Off-Track Discussions: Without clear guidelines and checkpoints, there’s a risk of students veering off-topic.
The Flipped Classroom is an innovative teaching approach that reverses traditional teaching. Instead of lectures occurring in class and assignments being done at home, the reverse happens. Students are introduced to new content at home, typically through video lectures, and then practice, apply, and delve deeper into the content in class with the guidance of the teacher.
Core Features of the Flipped Classroom:
- Pre-Class Learning: Students access lectures, readings, and other instructional materials before attending the classroom session, ensuring they come prepared with a basic understanding.
- Interactive Class Time: Classroom time is used for interactive activities like discussions, problem-solving sessions, and collaborative projects, rather than passive listening.
- Teacher as a Facilitator: Instead of being the primary source of information, the teacher facilitates, guides, and clarifies, offering more personalised instruction.
Advantages of the Flipped Classroom:
- Personalised Pace: Students can watch lectures and absorb content at their own pace, pausing, rewinding, or revisiting lectures as needed.
- More Engaging Sessions: With the foundational knowledge already in place, classroom sessions can be more dynamic, interactive, and centred on higher-order thinking.
- Immediate Feedback: As students apply what they’ve learned in class, teachers can offer real-time feedback and address misconceptions on the spot.
Challenges of the Flipped Classroom:
- Dependence on Technology: The approach relies heavily on students having access to technological devices and the internet outside of class.
- Initial Time Investment: Teachers may need to invest considerable time upfront in creating or curating high-quality online resources and videos.
- Adaptation Curve: Both students and educators might need some time to adapt to this flipped dynamic, especially if they’re used to traditional teaching methods.
Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) is an active learning approach where students are at the centre of their own learning journey. Through posing questions, investigating phenomena, and seeking answers, students actively acquire knowledge rather than passively receiving it. The aim is to nurture curiosity, encourage critical thinking, and foster deeper understanding.
Core Features of IBL:
- Student-Driven Questions: Instead of following a predetermined curriculum, learning revolves around questions or problems posed by students themselves.
- Research & Investigation: Students actively seek out information, conduct experiments, or explore resources to find answers to their questions.
- Reflect & Analyse: After gathering information, students analyse their findings, reflect on their learning, and draw conclusions.
Advantages of IBL:
- Deepens Understanding: By actively seeking out answers, students tend to understand and retain concepts better.
- Cultivates Curiosity: IBL encourages a natural sense of wonder, motivating students to learn and explore.
- Builds Research Skills: The investigative nature of IBL helps students develop strong research and analytical skills, preparing them for higher education and future careers.
Challenges of IBL:
- Requires More Guidance: Without clear boundaries, students can become overwhelmed or veer off-topic. The role of the educator is crucial in providing guidance without curtailing exploration.
- Time-Consuming: The explorative nature of IBL often requires more time than traditional teaching methods.
- Assessment Difficulties: Given its open-ended nature, evaluating student performance and understanding in IBL can be more complex.
In the rapidly evolving educational landscape, the adoption of varied learning approaches is no longer just a preference but a necessity. As learners continue to demonstrate a vast range of needs and preferences, educators must be adept at selecting and integrating diverse strategies to ensure optimal learning outcomes. From the hands-on involvement offered by practical projects to the self-directed nature of Inquiry-Based Learning, each method carries its unique advantages and challenges. While no single approach can be deemed universally superior, the key lies in understanding and adapting these methodologies to the specific context of one’s teaching environment and student demographic. By embracing this multifaceted approach to instruction, educators can foster environments that not only support academic achievement but also cultivate critical life skills, from collaboration and critical thinking to self-direction and resilience. Ultimately, the goal is to create a holistic learning experience, where every student feels valued, engaged, and empowered to reach their full potential.
Gould, J. & Roffey-Barentsen, J., 2014. Achieving your diploma in education and training. 1st ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Teaching for Quality Learning at University by John Biggs and Catherine Tang
This book discusses the idea of constructive alignment in university teaching and showcases various methods to ensure deep learning.
How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman
A deep dive into the principles that drive learning and how educators can utilise these insights for better teaching strategies.
The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson
A foundational book on differentiated instruction, showcasing how to cater to students with varied learning needs.
Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning
This website is dedicated to higher education and offers articles and resources about effective teaching strategies for college and university instructors.
Website URL: https://www.facultyfocus.com/
A comprehensive directory of various learning theories and models, this website is invaluable for educators wanting to delve deep into the theoretical foundations of different teaching methodologies.
Website URL: https://www.learning-theories.com/
TeachThought is an excellent platform that delves into modern pedagogy and innovative teaching strategies. The website covers various topics, from project-based learning and critical thinking to technology integration in classrooms. It serves as a rich resource for educators looking to evolve their teaching methods in alignment with 21st-century needs.
Website URL: https://www.teachthought.com/
My first experience of teaching was in 2016, when I was asked to
deliver a talk to a group of 16-year-olds on what it was like to start
your own business. I immediately knew I wanted to become more
involved in teaching but I didn’t know where to start as I had not
previously considered a career in education. A few weeks later I
agreed to teach a class of Chinese students from the Shanghai
Technical Institute of Electronics and Information, who had travelled
to the UK to learn English and Software Engineering, after that I was
hooked. Within the next few years, I taught hundreds of students of
many different nationalities, aged from 16 to 60, and from
levels 2 to 6. I focused my time teaching with Bath University and
Bath College for several more years until I felt a change was in order.
For the last few years, I have taught remotely with several private
training organisations, provided dedicated one to one coaching
sessions, provided consultancy on teaching and assessment practices
and written about my experiences as a teacher. I plan to continue
with my current activities for the foreseeable future but I’m always
open to new teaching experiences.
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