Teaching Methods

Choosing optimal methods to support learning outcomes.

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The importance of teaching methods

Teaching methods are the broader techniques used to help students achieve learning outcomes, while activities are the different ways of implementing these methods. Teaching methods help students:

  • master the content of the course
  • learn how to apply the content in particular contexts

Instructors should identify which teaching methods will properly support a particular learning outcome. Its effectiveness depends on this alignment. To make the most appropriate choice, an instructor should consider learning outcomes, student needs and the learning environment.

Consider the following example:

  • Learning outcome: Solve a complex math equation.
  • Learning environment: An in person, upper-level math course with 20 students.
  • Teaching method: Guided instruction. First, the instructor facilitates learning by modeling and scaffolding. Students take time to  ask questions and receive clarifications. Next, students practice applying these skills together and then independently. The instructor uses formative assessment to check for understanding.

This example demonstrates alignment of what the instructor wants students to do, and how they are supported in these tasks. If the instructor choses a different teaching method, such as a traditional lecture, students would need to process the lecture’s content and apply principles simultaneously. This is very difficult to do and would lead to less successful outcomes.

Choosing the appropriate teaching method brings instruction to life while encouraging students to actively engage with content and develop their knowledge and skills.

Teaching methods

The chart below provides a number of teaching methods to choose from. Teaching methods vary in their approach, some are more student-centered while others are more instructor centered, and you will see this reflected in the chart. Choose methods that will best guide your students to achieve the learning outcomes you’ve set and remember that your teaching approach, teaching methods and activities all work together.

Teaching Approach

Teaching Method

Definition/What students do

Activities
Teacher-Centered Lecture

Instructor presenting material and answering student questions that arise. Students receive, take in and respond

Demonstration, modeling, questions (convergent), presentation, slideshow, note-taking
Interactive Lecture A lecture that includes 2-15 minute breaks for student activities every 12-20 minutes. Multiple-choice items, solving a problem, comparing and filling in lecture notes, debriefing a mini case study, pair-compare, pair-compare-ask, reflection/reaction paragraph, solve a problem, concept mapping activities, correct the error, compare and contrast, paraphrase the idea, answer knowledge and comprehension questions
Directed Discussion Class discussion that follows a pre-determined  set of questions to lead students to certain realizations or conclusions, or to help them meet a specific learning outcome Direct, specific, or open-ended questions that are connected to learning outcomes and include varied cognitive processes
Direct Instruction Lecturing, but includes time for guided and independent practice

Create mind/concept maps, free writes, one-sentence summary, one minute papers

Guided Instruction Direct and structure instruction that includes extensive instructor modeling and student practice time Showing and explaining examples, model strategies, demonstrate tasks, classify concepts, define vocabulary, scaffold steps
Just-in-Time Teaching

Instructor adjusts class activities and lectures to respond to the misconceptions revealed by assessing students’ prior knowledge

Warmups, Goodfors, Conceptual questions (usually a quiz) to motivate students to do the readings

Experiential Learning Students focus on their learning process through application, observation and reflection Debates, panel discussion, press conference, symposium, reflection journals, lab experiments
Case-based Learning Students apply course knowledge to devise one or more solutions or resolutions to problems or dilemmas presented in a realistic story or situation Case study analysis, collaborative scenario-based discussions 
Inquiry-based or Inquiry Guided Learning Students learning or applying material in order to meet a challenge, answer a question, conduct an experiment, or interpret data Worked examples, process worksheets, analyze data sets, evaluate evidence, apply findings to a situation or problem and synthesize resolution(s), answer probing questions about a given research study, ask and answer “What will happen if…?” questions
Problem-based Learning

Student groups conducting outside research on student-identified learning issues (unknowns) to devise one or more solutions or resolutions to problems or dilemmas presented in a realistic story or situation

Review and critique research studies, work in groups/teams to solve a specific open-ended problem, labs

Project-based Learning Students applying course knowledge to produce something; often paired with cooperative learning Group work/team project – design or create something – e.g., piece of equipment, a product or architectural design, a computer code, a multimedia presentation, an artistic or literary work, a website, research study,  service learning
Role Plays and Simulations

Students acting out roles or improvising scripts, in a realistic and problematic social or interpersonal situation. Students playing out, either in person, or virtually, a hypothetical social situation that abstracts key elements from reality

Real-life situations and scenarios, debates, interviews, frame simulation
Student-Centered Fieldwork and Clinicals Students learning how to conduct research and make sound professional judgements in real-world situations Internships, assistantships, community service, shadowing

Table adapted from: Nilson (2016)

Choose your methods

Using the Course Design Template explore the aspects that will likely affect your course.

  • Step 1: Review your learning outcomes.
  • Step 2: Identify the teaching methods that best align to these learning outcomes and fill in the appropriate column.
  • Step 3: Consider possible activities which will next be examined in further detail.

Next steps

Now that you’ve reviewed a variety of teaching methods and considered which ones align with your learning outcomes, the next step is to consider activities.