About Learning‎ > ‎

Learning approaches

Alan November

According to  Chickering and Camson (1987): Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves (p.1). Within this context, it is proposed that strategies promoting active learning be defined as instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing (Bonwell & Eison 1991, p.5).

November (2014) believes that most assignment tasks that teachers develop simply require students to Google the answer. He asks "Who owns the learning?" and discusses how teaching students to think about how learning concepts might be applied in the real-world and to ask good questions is a more authentic way of learning in our globally connected world.

Teacher-centric approaches

In teacher-centered education, students put all of their focus on the teacher. The teacher talks, while the students exclusively listen. During activities, students work alone, and collaboration is discouraged (Concordia University, 2016, para. 2)


Coaching is a form of training or teaching, normally involving one-to-one support (a coach and a learner or 'coachee'), aimed at helping a person improve, often in a very practical sense (Businessballs.com, 2016, para. 4).

Coaching features (Management mentors, 2015)
  1. Task orientated
  2. Short-term
  3. Performance orientated
  4. Does not require design
  5. Immediate manager is indirectly involved
More info...


Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)" (Wikipedia, 2016, para. 4).

Mentoring features: (Management mentors, 2015)
  1. Relationship orientated
  2. Long-term
  3. Development orientated
  4. Requires design
  5. Immediate manager is a critical partner in coaching
More info...


Modeling is an instructional strategy in which the teacher demonstrates a new concept or approach to learning and students learn by observing (Coffey, 2008, para. 1)

Types of modeling: (Coffey, 2008)
  • Disposition modeling
  • Task and performance modeling
  • Metacognitive modeling
  • Modeling as a scaffolding technique 
  • Student-centered modeling
More info...


Scaffolding is a teaching method that enables a student to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal through a gradual shedding of outside assistance" (para. 1). "According to its original definition, scaffolding enlists the instructor as an “activator” whose role is to facilitate the student’s incremental mastery of a concept. “Fading” is the process of gradually removing the scaffolding that was put into place for the student until he internalizes the information and becomes a self-regulated, independent learner (Pinantoan, 2013, para. 2).

Learner-centric approaches

Learner-centred approaches are primarily derived from a constructivist philosophy of learning. Research reveals that students "learn better when they figure things out on their own, as compared to being told what to do" (¶2) and educators that follow this philosophy argue that learning activities that require students to "struggle productively and self-generate solutions "can lead to better understanding (Buschkuehl, 2016, ¶11).

Katie Martin discusses the evolving role of the teacher (2016) and suggests that if we want to transform learning and teaching then we need to do more than simply embrace and integrate technology into the classroom. We need to create powerful learning experiences that align with the attitudes, knowledge and skills that we want our learners to develop. She believes teachers need to be 1) a designer of powerful learning, 2) partners in learning, 3) a connector & advisor, and 4) a community developer. Her view aligns with a constructivist/connectivist philosophy of learning that promotes learner-centered approaches.

Jackie Gerstein believes teachers should "show learners the possibilities... and then get out of the way". In this post (2015) she describes how educators can facilitate the process of handing over the learning to the learners. Shelley Wright (2014) suggests that "school should be a place where kids can discover what they love" (para. 13).

Cziksentmihalyi proposed "Creating meaning involves bringing order to the contents of the mind by integrating one’s actions into a unified flow experience" (p. 6). He defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Cskikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.4). He identifies a number of different elements involved in achieving flow:
  • There are clear goals every step of the way.
  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
  • There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  • Action and awareness are merged.
  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
  • There is no worry of failure.
  • Self-consciousness disappears.
  • The sense of time becomes distorted.
  • The activity becomes an end in itself.

More info...

Active learning strategies

There are many active learning approaches, some of which are discussed below and others discussed in more detail on other pages in this website under learning approaches.

Case-based learning

Case studies are authentic scenarios that present a problem or issue for students to discuss and solve. Ideally, you want cases to have several possible solutions. When selecting cases, look for compelling stories, book chapters, movies, or newspaper articles that will engage students. Avoid cases with one correct answer. Effective case study discussions require meticulous planning and structure. The case should be linked to specific course learning goals (University of Pittsburg, 2016, para 1-2).


Peer learning essentially refers to students learning with and from each other as fellow learners without any implied authority to any individual, based on the tenet that 'Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers' (Boud) (cited by CDTL, 2003, para. 3).