• ACU encourages teaching strategies that foster active learning, including strategies founded in constructivism.
  • Teaching methods, how you put your teaching strategy into practice in the classroom, need to be evidence-based and align with student needs and learning outcomes.
  • Learning activities are the tasks students complete before, during and after class that facilitate learning.

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What is a teaching strategy? Teaching Methods Learning Activities

What is a teaching strategy?

A teaching strategy is the big picture framework that guides your decisions in relation to how you engage learners in a particular classroom context. The teaching strategy you use will be influenced by your understanding of how students learn, as well as the needs of your students. Consequently, you may use different teaching strategies depending on your overall goals and the context you are teaching in. The teaching strategy you use will guide your teaching methods and learning activities.

Teaching strategies founded on active learning, such as those flowing from a constructivist view of learning, engage the learner in activities where they construct knowledge, explore ideas and opportunities, and assume responsibility for their learning (Biggs & Tang 2011, p. 22). The following examples are popular and effective teaching strategies that engage the student in active learning. Problem-based Learning (PBL) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are practical in their orientation, while Experiential Learning is more theoretical.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching strategy that involves learners working on real-life problems in small groups. PBL can be applied systematically across whole programmes in particular modules or units (Barrett & Moore, 2010a). Barrett and Moore (2010a) conceptualise PBL as having six interrelated elements.

PBL problem design

Features of the PBL problem design:

  • Problems are presented at the beginning of the learning process
  • Problems can take a variety of forms: a case study, scenario, visual prompt, design brief, or any trigger designed to initiate learning
  • Success is related to the design of effective problems. Problems should be appropriate for the field and sufficiently complex to engage the learner with key concepts, procedures and judgements required in real world contexts. Advanced learners can identify as well as resolve problems in practice.

PBL tutorials in small teams

A key element of PBL is the use of small teams:

  • The learners work together to generate knowledge and understanding through collaboration, ideally the groups should be small (five to eight students)
  • In PBL knowledge emerges through “talking and listening to each other, by sharing ideas, by confronting divergent views, and by approaching problems in interactive, collaborative, communicative ways” (Barrett & Moore, 2010a, p.115).

PBL compatible assessment

PBL as a teaching strategy incorporates assessment design. Assessments need to align with a problem-based learning process. PBL assessment should incorporate the following elements:

  • Authentic assessment reflecting professional contexts and tasks from the target workplace.
  • Process-based assessment tasks that involve multiple, diverse and increasingly complex actions undertaken by students to develop and evidence relevant knowledge and skills.
  • Opportunities for self-assessment and reflection.
  • Clear alignment of assessment with learning outcomes

PBL curriculum development

A PBL curriculum is founded on learners working to solve problems in small teams, this process is supported by other curriculum inputs, such as lectures and practice placements.

Developing knowledge and capabilities

PBL enables students to learn concepts by working on problems designed around these concepts. In addition to knowledge PBL aims to develop other skills including:

  • Communication and teamwork skills
  • Information literacy
  • Critical and creative thinking and problem solving
  • Self-awareness and self-assessment

Philosophy of problem-based learning

PBL enables deeper consideration of what learning is, the purpose of higher education.

(Source: Barrett & Moore, 2010a; Barrett & Moore, 2010b; Pettigrew, Scholten & Gleeson, 2010)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a strategy that has inclusiveness and equity as its core principle. UDL is founded on the idea that learners need to have equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. UDL considers the diversity of abilities, disabilities, racial/ethnic/socio-economic backgrounds, reading abilities, ages, and other characteristics of the student cohort.

UDL is founded on three core principles: Engagement, Representation and Action & Expression (CAST, 2022).

Provide multiple means of engagement

There are a wide variety of ways in which students can be engaged or motivated to learn.

  • For example, some students engage best with spontaneity and novelty, while others prefer routine and structure.
  • Having flexible teaching strategies and universally designed course content allows students to choose methods that support their interests and skill levels.
Provide multiple means of representation

Students vary in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information. By providing various methods of representation, students will learn the material in their preferred mode.

  • For example, students who are hard of hearing may prefer visual information, whereas students who have difficulties with their vision may prefer verbal information.
  • As there is no one means of representation that will be optimal for all students; providing options for representation is essential.
Provide multiple means of action and expression

Students vary in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know.

  • For example, students with motor disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy) and students with language barriers approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in writing but not orally, and vice versa.
  • As there is no one means of expression that will be optimal for all students, providing options for expression in learning and assessment is essential.

More information about UDL can be found ACU Disability Support. The CAST website provides extensive information on the implementation of UDL.

Experiential learning is a teaching strategy founded on the belief that learners create meaning through engaging in direct experience. Experiential learning theory has become a key component of teaching in higher education (Chavan, 2011). Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory focuses on two levels. The first level of focus is a four-stage cycle of learning. The second level identifies four learning styles. The different elements are shown.

Kolb (1984) proposed the Experiential Learning Cycle where learners cycle through four stages: a) Experience (feeling), b) Reflective observation (watching), c) Abstract conceptualization (thinking), and d) Active experimentation (doing). The process is conceptualised as a learning cycle or spiral where the learner engages with all four stages and can begin the cycle at any stage (Chavan, 2011).

The second level of Kolb’s experiential learning theory proposes four learning styles (Diverging, Assimilating, Converging and Accommodating). The four learning styles are founded on the relationship between two components: How learners approach a task (Processing Continuum) and how learners feel about something (Perception Continuum). While Kolb asserted that learners have a preferred learning style they respond to and need to engage with all learning styles to learn effectively (McLeod, 2017).

A summary of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory can be found at Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle (McLeod, 2017).

Teaching Methods

Your teaching method is how you put your teaching strategy into practice. You will want to develop and use teaching methods that align with the unit learning outcomes, the students’ characteristics, and available resources, including their access to/and knowledge of technology (Hagler and Morris, 2018).

A teaching method is something you do in the classroom to engage students in learning, see the list below. The teaching methods you use will align with your overall teaching strategy.

Your teaching methods inform the choices you make in relation to classroom organisation and the teaching and learning activities you choose. Examples of teaching methods include:

  • questioning techniques
  • blend of activities including online and face to face
  • use of technology
  • delivery of content through explicit teaching, worked examples, collaboration
  • inclusion of contemporary events/topic
  • collaborative or social learning
  • time set aside for consolidation of learning/revision

To encourage active learning and engagement you should try to use a range of teaching methods. Students in higher education learn in different ways and the teaching methods you use need to reflect these differences. Research has shown that the diversification of teaching methods, rather than the use of a single method, can also play an important role in engaging learners (Tremblay-Wragg, et al. 2021).

Aligning teaching goals and teaching methods

Tanner (2013) identified four broad goals of teaching and aligned them with different teaching methods to encourage active participation and learner engagement. Not all options are appropriate in all teaching contexts, but they offer a range of ideas to consider.

What time
A simple teaching method is to increase the time allowed for thinking. Lengthening wait time by 3-5 seconds can increase student participation and willingness to volunteer and can lead to more complex responses.
Provide time to write Scaffolding wait time by getting leaners to write down how they would answer the question can build understanding. If applied strategically as a teaching method, it can increase the time learners spend thinking about a topic.
Think-pair-share This is a commonly used teaching method. The learner is given time to think, then discuss their ideas with a partner and they can then be asked to share their ideas with a larger group. It is important to explain that agreement is not the objective, the aim is to collaborate and compare ideas.
Hand raising
Using hand raising and turn taking can effectively encourage and manage more equal participation of students in a lesson. If done consistently using a structured process, hand raising can establish an expectation of participation.
Assign reporters When using groups, a way to encourage participation is to assign the group a reporter who has to share the ideas at the end of the group task. The reporter role can be assigned randomly or planned systematically. Once established as routine, assigning reporters can promote equitable participation.
Whip (around) A whip or whip around involves every student adding at least one comment or idea to the discussion. It is particularly useful in small classes and at the beginning of a course. Whips can be used to confirm understanding and enable all students to exercise their voice. It is more difficult in a larger class. But can be implemented by calling on a subset, such as a particular row or table at random.
Learn or have access to names
One way to cultivate an inclusive classroom culture is to know and use student names. Using name tags is one way to enable the use of names. Students will feel more included if they are referred to by their name.
Integrate diverse and relevant examples Students come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, it is important to include diverse examples in teaching materials. The examples should also be relevant to the learners. Including diverse voices and ideas will enable learners to connect their lived experience with abstract concepts.
Small groups Working in small groups can provide opportunities for students to share ideas and learn from each other. However, groupwork can also be challenging for students. It is important to provide clear guidance on the purpose of the groupwork and where possible assign roles.
Ask open-minded questions
Questioning is a critical tool for developing thinking. Open-ended questions have multiple possible responses. Open-ended questions can be asked as part of a lesson or given as homework.
Do not judge responses Be open to a range of perspectives and answers. Thank students for sharing without immediately judging the correctness of the answer. Incorrect statements can be returned to at a later time.
Praise with caution To encourage critical thinking and divergent ideas try to avoid heaping praise on an answer “That’s perfect”. Heaping too much praise on one answer can discourage other students from contributing their ideas. Encouragement is important but should be used to build ideas and discussion.

Learning activities

Learning activities are the things that learners do before, during and after classes. These activities occur as expressions of your teaching strategy and methods. For example, if you adopt a PBL strategy with a teaching method that requires regular collaboration in addressing case-based problems, you may engage students in learning activities that include identification and summary of a suitable problem in the relevant field or industry, concept mapping of the problem, information search, group presentations, peer reviews and so on as activities that promote student centred and collaborative learning in problem solving.

Learning activities can include diverse processes and resources. Processes may include discussions, forum posts, concept maps, diagrams, posters, presentations and a myriad of alternative options that are covered in the linked resources below. Resources may include readings, videos or artefacts which students engage with collaboratively or autonomously to produce an outcome. This outcome should align to one or more of the Learning Outcomes for your unit which in turn align with assessment tasks. So, in completing these learning activities, learners are rehearsing assessment. For more information on learning outcome and mapping learning please see the following resources: Mapping Learning across the Curriculum, Developing Learning Outcomes and Generic and Extended Unit Outlines.

There are different resources available online that provide a range of teaching ideas to use to develop a diverse repertoire of learning activities to diversify your practice.

The Learning Activities in Blended Learning resource on the CEI website also provides examples of different active-learning focused teaching ideas, including ways to use groups and pairs, role plays, jigsaw activities, storytelling and problem-based learning activities.

Active learning in practice can be supported by well-planned lessons containing clear goals or learning outcomes and diverse teaching methods and related activities to engage learners. There are several different ways to plan for a lesson. Key considerations are:

  • Prepare – plan teaching sessions
  • Scaffold – break the learning up so that it is student focused
  • Adjust – teaching sessions do not always go to plan, so be flexible and have a back up
  • Elicit feedback – Question and Answer, short conversations, use online tools
  • Reflect, renew, build – and next time teach in a different way with updated materials

While there isn’t a prescribed lesson plan template at ACU, there are tools for mapping learning which could be useful.

It is also to discuss options with colleagues in your discipline and there are several options available online. The following links provide examples

Other resources

Barrett, T., & Moore, S. (2010a). “Introduction to Problem-based Learning”. In T. Barrett and S. Moore. New approaches to problem-based learning: Revitalising your practice in higher education. Taylor & Francis Group.

Barrett, T. & Moore, S. (2010b), “Students Maximising the Potential of the Problem-based Learning Tutorial: Generating Dialogic Knowing”. In T. Barrett and S. Moore. New approaches to problem-based learning: Revitalising your practice in higher education. Taylor & Francis Group.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 4th Ed. McGraw-Hill Berkshire.

CAST (2022). About Universal Design for Learning. CAST Retrieved from https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl

Chavan, M. (2011). Higher Education Students’ Attitudes Towards Experiential Learning in International Business, Journal of Teaching in International Business, 22(2), 126-143.

Donche, V., De Maeyer, S., Coertjens, L., Van Daal, T. & van Petegem P. (2013). Differential use of learning strategies in first-year higher education: The impact of personality, academic motivation and teaching strategies, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 238-251.

Hagler, D., Morris, B., (2018). Learning environment and teaching methods. In: Oermann, M., De Gagne, J., Cusatis, B. (Eds.), Teaching in Nursing and Role of the Educator. Springer Publishing Company, London.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McLeod, S. (2017). Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle. Retrieved from Kolb's Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle | Simply Psychology

Pettigrew, C., Scholten, I. & Gleeson, E. (2010). “Using Assessment to Promote Student Capabilities”. In T. Barrett and S. Moore. New approaches to problem-based learning: Revitalising your practice in higher education. Taylor & Francis Group.

Tanner, K.D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity, CBE Life Sciences Education, 12, 322-331.

Tremblay-Wragg, E., Raby, C. & Ménard, L. & Plante, I. (2021). The use of diversified teaching strategies by four university teachers: what contribution to their students’ learning motivation?, Teaching in Higher Education, 26:1, 97-114

Page last updated on 15/07/2022

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