Delivery Modes and Teaching Approaches

Understand how course delivery and instructional approaches will affect design choices.

On this page:

Why focus on how you will teach?

The first two factors that will affect course design are:

  1. Delivery Modes: The formats in which the course is delivered.
  2. Teaching Approaches: The strategies used to deliver instruction and facilitate learning.

Choosing a teaching approach, or a combination of approaches, is directed by one's beliefs about learning. Further, whether you plan to teach online, in person or through another mode, this will influence your teaching approach and affect the experiences you provide to your students. Because these factors impact each other as well as the broad scope of your course, we must first explore these options and their potential tradeoffs.

Delivery Modes

There are several modes or ways that instruction can be delivered. Each provide different opportunities for learning.

Teaching Mode In Person Online Real Time
Face-to-face Y N Y

Online - Synchronous


Online - Asynchronous



Y Y (Majority) Y (In Person)
N (Online)

Blended Synchronous

Y Y Y (Simultaneous)

Hybrid Flexible (HyFlex)

Y Y Y (In Person)
Y and N, can choose (Online)


  1. Situational Factors: The context of your teaching situation, as well as the learning situation of your students, will also help identify the appropriate instructional mode. While your instructional mode may be pre-determined, several factors may be within your control. For example, while teaching a face-to-face course, you may build in asynchronous online learning.
  2. Learning Outcomes: The mode of learning can also be differentiated by the complexity of learning outcomes. For example, in a hybrid course, learning outcomes related to understanding new information can be completed by students in an online asynchronous module. During the next in person class session, students could then work in groups to apply these concepts to more complex learning.

Keep in mind possible teaching modes as we next consider how you will teach your students.

Teaching Approaches

There are two main approaches to instruction in higher education: teacher-centered and student-centered. Your approaches will significantly impact your students’ learning experiences as well as their ability to understand new concepts and transfer knowledge.

  Teacher-centered Student-centered


Instructor provides information to student

Student builds understanding with guidance of instructor

Theoretical Support

Behaviorism: Learning consists of inputs (information) delivered to students and outputs (student behavior) such as performances on exams, essays, or presentations Constructivism: Students build understanding using prior knowledge and new experiences


Singular: Teacher actions and content coverage

Shared: Student action and teacher facilitation

Teacher Role

Deliver information, measure outcomes, reinforce behavior through process and rules

Provide experiences and guide meaning making

Student Role

Passive learning, take in information

Active learning, construct understanding


Direct Instruction:

  • Modeling
  • Explanation
  • Elaboration
  • Lecturing
  • Demonstration
  • Thinking aloud through processes
  • Recapping or summarizing information

Coaching and Facilitating:

  • Interactive lectures
  • Asking questions
  • Guiding student thinking
  • Prompting and cueing
  • Scaffolding learning and information
  • Thinking collaboratively with students
  • Incorporating formative assessment
Assessment Role Sort Learners Guide Learners

Choosing an Approach

Teacher-centered and student-centered approaches are neither good nor bad. Their use depends on your learning outcomes and context. For example, modeling a chemistry experiment may be the best way to demonstrate processes in the lab, while in other parts of your course, students use guided practice to complete lab experiments with a partner. Further, both approaches may be evident within a single lesson or module.

Keep the following considerations in mind when you choose an approach:

1. Tradeoffs: The following are pros and cons for each approach:

Teacher-centered Student-centered
  • Control and order
  • Coverage ensured
  • Efficient delivery: one-to-many
  • Noisy and chaotic
  • Coverage not ensured
  • Large numbers difficult
  • Exhaust attention
  • Less communication or collaboration
  • Less opportunity for self-direction and guidance
  • Engaging and interesting
  • Communication and collaboration skills
  • More self-directed learning

2. Learning Outcomes: Always consider your learning outcomes and how students will best achieve these.

3. Meaning Making and Prior Knowledge: Constructivism asserts that while instructors can deliver information, only students can make meaning of it. How difficult this meaning making may be will determines how much guidance, feedback, or support should be provided. This will be determined both by the complexity of the topic and students’ prior knowledge. A student-centered approach will allow you to determine prior knowledge and adjust guidance accordingly.

These considerations will be guided throughout the course design process. For now, remember that there are several approaches to teaching and that their use will depend on various factors. It is best to be open to diverse approaches, exploring their effectiveness in supporting student learning while building your teaching toolkit. As we continue through the course design process, it is important to keep in mind how your delivery mode can influence your teaching approaches and vice versa. Both aspects can create opportunities and limitations within your course and its design.

Next Steps

Now that you have considered the mode you might deliver in and how to approach instruction, next we need to consider the remaining situational factors that will influence course design.