Archive for May, 2012

Brain Research, Instructional Strategies, and E-Learning: Making the Connection

September 28, 2009

Instructional strategies and their supporting tactics are the heart of instructional design. Research is giving designers much valuable information about the way the human brain works and how humans learn. We can use this information to guide our designs and strategy choices, and to improve learning. Here is the research, the strategies, and tactics that will help you use the findings in your own designs.

Success is what happens when opportunity meets planning. Instructional design is a type of planning. You have probably planned for a variety of events in your life: vacations, weddings, or your financial future.

When you are planning a trip to a vacation destination, there are options. You can drive, or you can take a train or a plane. In the same way, planning instruction involves a variety of options (strategies) for helping your students achieve their destination: learning.

This article is about applying brain-compatible instructional strategies in an e-Learning environment. In general, a strategy is a plan, method, or series of maneuvers (stratagems) for obtaining a specific goal or result. Instructional strategies have the goal of helping students to learn and teaching students how to learn.

Advances in brain-scan technology provide information about brain function and learning. The most powerful findings indicate that the way we teach can physically change the brain. This in turn encourages us to teach with the brain in mind. Teaching with the brain in mind means applying the strategies you already know in a different way, or learning new strategies and how to apply them.

I’ve organized the content into four sections. First, I provide some background on the roots of brain-compatible learning strategies stemming from what research has learned via brain-scan technologies. Then I discuss the instructional strategies research has found to be most effective. Next, I’ll provide a structure to aid in deciding when to use a strategy. Finally, I’ll focus on the tactics for implementing a few of the brain-compatible strategies in an e-Learning environment.

Brain scan technology and learning

Neuroscience, using brain-imaging technologies, is finding out a lot about how the brain works. Some of the discoveries have implications for instruction. There are two major categories of brain-imaging technologies: there are those technologies that look at brain structure (the function of a particular part of the brain), and there are those that look at brain functions (how the parts interact with each other).

Research using brain-imaging technologies yields information about the processes of learning and remembering (see Figure 1). Knowing how the processes work allows us to identify pivotal elements in the learning environment. Instructional design can then incorporate them into learning strategies, leveraging them to enhance student learning and make our products more effective.

The major research findings with implications for teaching are:

  • Learning and retention are different.
  • There are different types of memory with different characteristics.
  • Memories are not stored intact.
  • Any form of logical grouping facilitates perception, comprehension, and retention.
  • No one teaching strategy is best.

Brain research findings have been used to gauge a variety of instructional strategies in order to identify those that mesh with how the brain works. In the book, Classroom Instruction that Works, the authors identify nine instructional strategies that affect student achievement. In order of effectiveness, these are:

  • Using comparing, contrasting, classifying, analogies, and metaphors
  • Summarizing and note taking (keyword outlines)
  • Reinforcing effort and giving praise
  • Homework and practice
  • Nonlinguistic representations (graphic organizers)
  • Cooperative learning
  • Setting objectives and providing feedback
  • Generating hypotheses
  • Questions, cues, and advanced organizers

You may find that some strategies lend themselves more easily to the e-Learning environment than others. For example, strategies that contain socially interactive components, such as cooperative learning, are a bit more challenging and more suited to Web 2.0 applications.

A description of each strategy

I combine the comparing, contrasting, classifying, analogies, and metaphor  into the category of bridging strategies. The intent of all of them is to aid the learner by connecting new information (bridging) to something the learner already knows. Brain research tells us that the brain physically changes when we learn, and that memories are not stored in a single location in the brain. Changing the brain is demanding work. When you reduce the amount of the brain that needs changing (that is, the amount to be learned), there is a better chance of new information getting into long-term storage and aiding recall. Connecting new knowledge to information that is already in long-term storage is like the difference between cooking a prepared microwave dinner and preparing a dinner from fresh ingredients. Bridging to information already known (prepared ingredients) saves all the effort and energy of cleaning and cutting, and reduces cooking time.

Summarizing and note taking reduce the amount of information the learner needs to get into long-term storage. Each is a form of chunking strategy. The process filters information by deleting material, substituting material, and keeping material. The amount of information to be retained is directly proportional to the amount of energy and storage the brain must produce. For example, it is easier for you to remember a summation of the research findings with implications for teaching, than it is to remember all five of them. A summary could look like this: “Learning and retention are different, logical grouping helps, and no strategy is best.” Further, substituting in a summary allows for the use of information that is already known, and is easier for the brain than acquiring and storing new information. If you are already familiar with the different types of memory (short-term, working, and long-term), you could substitute that knowledge for “there are different types of memory with different characteristics” from the list of research findings presented earlier.

Reinforcing effort and giving praise can affect a learner’s motivation. Motivation is germane to learning because learning is an active process requiring conscious and deliberate activity. Learning involves the brain, the nervous system, and the environment in a process where they interplay to acquire information and skills. Motivation is like a car’s accelerator: it controls the cognitive energy supplied to the brain. The higher the level of motivation, the more focus and determination can be given to learning.

One of the keys to effective praise is that it focuses on the effort the learner has applied in accomplishing a task. Praise for outcomes that are achieved with little effort gives learners the message that effort is not valued. Avoid the unjustified “Great Job!” for efforts that require little more than clicking to the next screen.

Homework and practice fall into the general area of repetition strategies. Repetition strengthens the connection created in the brain when learning takes place. It is similar to blazing a new path through a jungle. The first time takes a lot of effort. The second time takes a little less effort and so on, until it becomes a relatively easy trail to transverse. Homework lends itself better to the asynchronous e-Learning environment that allows for independent study. Practice and e-Learning go together like chips and salsa. If practice is the chips, the computer is the salsa. The computer can tirelessly add a variety of flavors and spice to the chips. Some of the various flavors of practice include:

  • matching,
  • flash cards,
  • concert review,
  • games,
  • fill in the blank,
  • question and answer,
  • paraphrasing,
  • selecting,
  • crossword puzzles, and
  • word searches.

Figure 2 is an example of a practice session that is based on a slot machine. The learner spins each of the variables separately (randomization) and then selects an answer by clicking from options on the right. Feedback appears in the lower right corner. This example is used to memorize radiation exposure limits based on the variables of the regulatory agency setting the limit, and the parts of the body it applies to. The same method could be used for multiplication tables or other situations that contain two variables.

Figure 2 Slot machine example. Used with permission of Fluor Hanford Co. Richland, WA.


Nonlinguistic representations (graphic organizers are from the family of spatial strategies. These strategies mimic how the brain’s storage system works.

Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy in which students work together in groups, usually with the goal of completing a specific task. Brain research indicates information from the environment temporarily resides in our working memory. It also tells us that the longer information is processed in working memory, the greater the probability that retention will happen (long term memory). One factor influencing the amount of processing time in working memory is motivation.

The elements of a cooperative learning exercise include:

  • An esprit de corps (group members are linked with each other in a way that any one member cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds)
  • Defined goal or objective
  • Lines of communication sufficient to handle the media necessary to complete the objective (more crucial in an e-Learning environment)
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for the group
  • Individual and group accountability

Cooperative learning lends itself to the Learning 2.0 environment. Members of the group must have the necessary technical and interpersonal skills to be successful. Small groups of three to four members are the most effective.

Setting objectives and providing feedback have two influences on learning. The first is motivational. Objectives provide a finish line and tell the learners when they will have completed a learning task. Without an objective, a learning adventure would begin at the edge of an abyss that learners can’t see across. Objectives can generate intrinsic motivation when the learning task is related to the learners’ needs. The other function of objectives is to allow the brain to recall previous strategies and tactics that have worked in similar situations. More on instructional objectives can be found in my earlier Learning Solutions article, “Good Beginnings: Leveraging the Strengths and Avoiding the Weaknesses of the e-Learning Medium” (September 27, 2007).

Generating hypotheses strengthens the connections to information by activating the recall of information from memory storage (strengthening the neural pathways) and inherently involves motivation by activating a learner’s curiosity. This strategy challenges the learner to propose an outcome based upon changes in the environment that affect the traits of a concept.

Questions, cues, and advanced organizers are strategies that initiate an activity in which the learner needs to activate prior knowledge. Questions in this context are not the rhetorical version. These questions are meant to elicit inferences or require the learner to analyze information. Questions are like the starting points of a maze; they send the learner into the corridors of knowledge in search of the goal of enlightenment. The Socratic Method is a version of questioning that leads the learner to a particular train of thought or conclusion. An example of this method in an e-Learning environment would be using questions in problem-solving scenarios to guide learners to a desired conclusion.

Cues are similar to instructional objectives. Cues prepare the learner for what is to come, or provide guidance as to future learning content. Common uses of cues in e-Learning are the hints found in the lower portion of a screen along with a “What’s next” statement. Cues can also stimulate curiosity and increase motivation.

Advanced organizers are a bridging strategy that lays the groundwork for connecting what a learner knows to what is to be learned.

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21st Century Curriculum and Instruction

The relationship between curriculum and instruction is obviously a very close one. Curriculum is essentially a design, or roadmap for learning, and as such focuses on knowledge and skills that are judged important to learn. Instruction is the means by which that learning will be achieved. To meet the needs of the 21st century learner and achieve the student outcomes described in its Framework, the Partnership calls on schools
to adopt a 21st century curriculum that blends thinking and innovation skills; information, media, and ICT literacy; and life and career skills in context of core academic subjects and across interdisciplinary themes, and
to employ methods of 21st century instruction that integrate innovative and research-proven teaching strategies, modern learning technologies, and real world resources and contexts.

The Partnership’s approach to curriculum is well supported by academic research. In this section, we’ll look at just a few of any number of effective, research-based curricular models capable of supporting a 21st century skills learning agenda. We’re all familiar with the old-fashioned curriculum of the 3 R’s – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but Robert Sternberg of Tufts University has called for a curriculum that centers on developing student competence in what he calls “the other 3 R’s.” In this case, the R’s stand for Reasoning which include analytical, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, Resilience which encompasses life skills such as flexibility, adaptability, and self-reliance, and Responsibility which Sternberg links to wisdom, which he defines as “the application of intelligence, creativity, and knowledge for a common good.”

Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan, co-directors of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University, recommend a curriculum built on a different set of “new 3 R’s” – that is, Rigor, Relevance, and Respect. (Note that the Change Leadership Group’s 3 R’s address instructional approaches, while Sternberg’s R’s are framed as student outcomes.) Rigor, for Wagner, et al, does not mean content that is difficult for students to master, rather it concerns what students are able to do as a result of their learning. Relevance means helping students understand how their learning connects to their further studies and future work settings. Respect means promoting respectful relationships between and among teachers and students that foster academic and social competence.

Other notable curricula have been proposed by Harvard researcher David Perkins, who has long advocated that thinking skills be taught as a “meta-curriculum” intertwined with traditional core subjects, and Marc Tucker and Judy Codding, who citing decades of research, urge schools to adopt “a thinking curriculum – one that provides a deep understanding of the subject and the ability to apply that understanding to the complex, real-world problems that the student will face as an adult.”

These are just some of the many ways to approach a 21st century curriculum. The point in describing several models is to demonstrate the soundness of a variety of approaches. There is no one best approach for teaching 21st skills. Each school system must determine what makes the most sense given their unique circumstances. As this paper demonstrates, the Partnership’s call for the integration of cognitive and social skills with content knowledge is not new to this century. There are, however, a few critical components that 21st century schools should make part of their curricula

Perhaps foremost, and most obvious, is that the curriculum must go beyond content knowledge to include a strong emphasis on 21st century skills development. Research shows that when schools employ a curriculum that balances knowledge and skills, students may cover fewer topics, but they generally learn more than with a content-only curriculum. “The illusion of covering less is just that – an illusion,” states David Perkins. “Perhaps fewer pages have been read, but the knowledge gains are almost always about the same or better. The topper, of course, is that gains in understanding and insight are often much greater…”

John Bransford (2007) has observed that many people mistakenly feel students cannot be asked to master what are sometimes called “higher-level skills” unless they first learn basic content like that tested on standardized tests. But actually, he states, “people are built to be learners who inquire and interrogate and get feedback as they learn to solve complex problems. So learning-to-learn and inquiry skills, guided by the ability to ask relevant questions due to knowledge of the ‘big ideas’ of various disciplines, are actually the fundamental skills that we need to emphasize.”

As with curriculum, any number of pedagogical approaches may be successfully employed to build student competence in the skills and knowledge Bransford describes. The choice of instructional strategies is best made on a local level, taking into account the resources, expertise, and learning needs of that particular community of learners. But there are a number of research-supported approaches that have proven to be effective ways to enhance learning of both skills and content. One such approach is problem-based learning (or PBL), an instructional strategy in which “students investigate rich and challenging issues and topics, often in the context of real world problems.” PBL models may also include other aspects of 21st century instruction such as the use of interdisciplinary content, cooperative learning groups, and student reflection. Research has shown that because working with problems requires students to generate ideas and provide explanations, it promotes learning. Problem-based learning also has been shown to increase students’ active engagement with content, as well as their capacity for self-directed learning, collaboration, and social interaction.

Another pedagogy that supports 21st century skills is cooperative learning. Organizing students in well-structured heterogeneous groups has been shown to have a powerful effect on learning. Such groupings also have the advantage of promoting teamwork, leadership and other life/career skills, while enhancing student academic performance.

Using real world contexts is another key component of 21st curriculum and instruction. Research shows that when teachers create meaningful learning activities that center on the resources, strategies, and contexts that students will encounter in adult life, such teaching reduces absenteeism, fosters cooperation and communication, builds critical thinking skills, and boosts academic performance. When students see the connection between what they are learning and real world issues that matter to them, their motivation soars, and so does their learning. Developing a robust and engaging 21st century curriculum and employing 21st century instruction means that teachers and school leaders will need to look outside the school walls and seek ideas, resources, and expertise where they are found – in their community; in professional and educational groups; and in individuals, schools, and organizations around the world.

Educational technologies, of course, are an essential part of a 21st century curriculum, too. It’s important, though, to realize that this does not means teaching technology for its own sake – but rather applying appropriate technologies to instructional tasks in order to enrich the learning of both traditional and 21st century content, as well as promote the development of 21st century skills. And “appropriate technology,” in some cases, may mean a pencil, or a book, or a conversation.

Twenty-first century schools, though, also take advantage of advanced technologies. Pedagogies that thoughtfully incorporate today’s learning tools yield research-proven learning benefits, such as enabling students to employ simulations to “see” microscopic processes or “re-live” historical events. Communications technologies facilitate giving and receiving feedback and allow students to progressively revise their work – all instructional strategies that have been shown to enhance learning. And today’s digital tools make it possible to expand the walls of the classroom and enable the integration of resources – scientific data, library collections, video and film archives – from across the globe into the curriculum. As noted earlier, instruction that features real world contexts facilitates the transfer of learning from school to life. Digital communications make it possible to bring in wisdom and lived experience of people in the community, as well as experts from the worlds of science, business, government and higher education – and thus, bring life to learning.

Although listed as a separate 21st century support system (and addressed in another section of this paper), assessment is inextricably linked to instruction. Thus, we can’t leave the topic of 21st century instruction without touching on formative assessments, assessments that enable a teacher to evaluate learning while it is occurring. Such assessments make it possible to diagnose learning gaps, and address them before they lead to more fundamental misunderstandings of knowledge or misapplication of skills. Formative assessment tools such as rubrics play an important role in the 21st century classroom by providing teachers and students with clear guidelines on what constitutes acceptable levels of achievement.

To guide educators in using technology to promote 21st century curricula and instruction, the Partnership, in collaboration with several content area organizations, has developed a series of ICT Literacy Maps illustrating the intersection between Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy and core academic subjects. These maps enable educators to view concrete examples of how ICT Literacy can be integrated into core subjects, while making the teaching and learning of core subjects more relevant to the demands of the 21st century. Maps are available at the Partnership’s website ( in the following core subjects:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

The Importance of Continuing Education and How to Master It

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Learning Opportunities are Available Every Day through Communication

The world we live in today is busier and takes more of our attention than any of the previous generations would have ever imagined. Consider your daily responsibilities, then add the current technology to that mixture, and you are ultimately left with limited time for extracurricular activities.  However, this should not deter us from extracurricular learning. Now many individuals think of learning and immediately an image of a classroom comes to mind. Not to mention the ever increasing costs of tuition, as well as the investment of time it takes to go through college or continuing education classes. Much to our benefit, this does not have to be the case.

The Written Word vs. Discussion

About half way through finishing my master’s degree I began to realize something. This being that an overwhelming amount of my conceptualizations of the topics being discussed were not necessarily happening from my readings, but from the in class discussions afterwards. The readings simply gave me the terminology and a basis for which I was able to carry on meaningful conversations with my classmates. Now you may be asking yourself, “so what are you saying, I need to go find someone to talk to in order to learn?” Well, my answer is yes. Now I am not saying there are no other ways to learn. As a writer, I certainly support and promote the significance the written word has in our intellectual development. That being said, what might be a good question to ask is what enhances the written word? This is where discussion and debate catapult our understanding of any topic we are pursuing to a higher level.

“How does someone else’s view affect my own understanding?”

The answer to this question is through guidance. What does that mean?  Following the time we read material on any topic, we all form observations and conclusions that make sense to us as individuals. These could be based off our own past experiences perhaps. However, what we must ask ourselves is whether or not our conclusions are correct. Are they a logical answer, or at the very least, a reasonable comprehension of what was being read. Here is where dialogue comes into play. The advantage of carrying on a conversation with someone who has similar interests in a topic, is that it allows you to either affirm your own beliefs or perhaps see where they may be flawed. Notice that “flaw” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely wrong, but possibly in need of an adjustment. The need to be assisted or guided by our peers is an inevitable circumstance. Despite this inevitability, as individuals we at times feel ashamed of this, but it is truly a learning opportunity. The path to higher learning is through discussion.

“I have a difficult time debating with strangers or acquaintances.”

I am naturally a shy person to a degree, as I feel many people have those same feelings. I have no difficulty speaking with people, I enjoy it immensely. However, going back to my classes in the graduate program, in the beginning I preferred to listen, rather than get into a debate with a stranger. Debating with friends, family, or my wife was no problem. (Depending on the topic, of course). Yet someone to whom I have never even introduced myself, that was a different story. Regardless, it is noteworthy to remember that those individuals were having similar feelings as well, being that they were either too shy to speak, wanted to contribute to the discussion, or a combination of both. The latter seems to be the most probable. The factor to consider was that we were all there for the same reason, to learn from each other. Around my second semester what I soon realized to my own amazement,  was not only were the discussions immensely enjoyable, but those “strangers” were the best individuals with whom to have a debate. This is due to one major fact; they brought entirely new and unfamiliar insight to the topic. Although, there is no doubt your family and friends will give you great ideas and intelligent input, there is a reason that you are close to them. That reason being  your similarities or similar ways of thinking. This is not to say they will give you a biased, wrong, or unintelligent opinions. As people who love and care about you, I would suggest they would give you quite the contrary. At the risk of diminishing my argument, it is important to mention that close friends and family can offer extraordinarily valuable viewpoints as well.  Yet, what individuals who are outside of your everyday realm offer is a brand new frame of mind, thought patterns, and most importantly, perspective…….Simply put, these “strangers” gave me the view points that significantly improved my own ideas.


Now how does this fit into adult learning on an everyday basis? This is where it becomes easy as adults, because we are given an infinite amount of opportunities to discuss topics with others throughout our daily rituals. Although, my everyday learning has been primarily structured within the context of an academic setting, it is not limited to that space. This is the magnificent aspect about learning; it does not have to be in a formal setting. Allow the world to be your classroom.

Dale Schlundt holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio

Photo credit: ‘Two Men Talking‘ by Big Stock


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Education as it should be – passion-based.

Is There a Digital Divide or an Intellectual-Pedagogical One?

This post includes a number of wonderings . . .

For the past few days, there has been some controversy over a TED talk that included some commentary about classism. See the Time article Was Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk on Income Inequality Too Rich for Rich People? for a synopsis.  The basic premise was that the talk was censored from public viewing due to it being offensive to the wealthy folks that pay to attend the TED conference.

I really love watching TED talks but this controversy got me thinking about intellectual elitism.  I cannot nor will ever be able to afford to go to a TED conference but I can watch them online.  I often ask, in group settings, if folks heard of TED.  Groups that contain higher education faculty and teachers, who are engaged in social networks, do know of TED talks.  My college students and friends, many who are of lower SES levels, have not.

I wonder what would happen if I were to ask this question of the larger population. I believe the results would show that more higher income folks would know about the TED talks than lower income folks.

I have the privilege of using my laptop, iPhone, and iPad to learn about anything I want throughout the day.  These devices along with skills I gained about how to learn have provided me with opportunities to access information I desire. I am wondering if folks from lower income brackets can say the same.

The use of technology use by our society has sparked discussion about the digital divide.

Such numbers may seem proof that America is, indeed, online. But they mask an emerging division, one that has worrisome implications for our economy and society. Increasingly, we are a country in which only the urban and suburban well-off have truly high-speed Internet access, while the rest — the poor and the working class — either cannot afford access or use restricted wireless access as their only connection to the Internet. As our jobs, entertainment, politics and even health care move online, millions are at risk of being left behind.

  • But I wonder if the digital divide is really an intellectual or pedagogical one.
  • I wonder that if a comparison was done of higher and lower income schools, what would be the ratio of 1:1 (one mobile device per student during school time) initiatives?
  • I wonder, for those lower income schools, how many students have computer devices at home that match those they are using in school.
  • Even considering the new Ted-Ed Lessons Worth Sharing, I wonder which schools are using the lessons.
  • I wonder if technology integration strategies are similar for higher income schools in comparison to lower income skills.

Are we sugarcoating a larger sociological issue of classism in our school systems? Thirty years ago, Jean Anyon wrote Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work

It’s no surprise that schools in wealthy communities are better than those in poor communities, or that they better prepare their students for desirable jobs. It may be shocking, however, to learn how vast the differences in schools are – not so much in resources as in teaching methods and philosophies of education.

I fear that the digital divide is really an intellectual and pedagogical one and that it is being perpetuated in our educational system by the use or lack thereof of the technologies that are influencing and driving our society-at-large.

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Hello world!

Posted: May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Welcome to! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

Instructional Approches

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Effective teaching is not a set of generic practices, but instead is a set of context-driven decisions about teaching. Effective teachers do not use the same set of practices for every lesson . . . Instead, what effective teachers do is constantly reflect about their work, observe whether students are learning or not, and, then adjust their practice accordingly (Glickman, 1991, p. 6).

 Instructional Models 

Models represent the broadest level of instructional practices and present a philosophical orientation to instruction. Models are used to select and to structure teaching strategies, methods, skills, and student activities for a particular instructional emphasis. Instructional models are related to theories about how we learn. Some examples include: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism.  Various learning theories fit within these general categories, i.e., adult learning theory, transformative learning, social interaction, motivation theory, etc.


Instructional Strategies

Within each model several strategies can be used. Strategies determine the approach a teacher may take to achieve learning objectives. Strategies can be classed as direct, indirect, interactive, experiential, or independent.

  • The direct instruction strategy is highly teacher-directed and is among the most commonly used. This strategy includes methods such as lecture, didactic questioning, explicit teaching, practice and drill, and demonstrations. The direct instruction strategy is effective for providing information or developing step-by-step skills. This strategy also works well for introducing other teaching methods, or actively involving students in knowledge construction.
  • Inquiry, induction, problem solving, decision making, and discovery are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably to describe indirect instruction. In contrast to the direct instruction strategy, indirect instruction is mainly student-centred, although the two strategies can complement each other. Examples of indirect instruction methods include reflective discussion, concept formation, concept attainment, cloze procedure, problem solving, and guided inquiry.
  • Interactive instruction relies heavily on discussion and sharing among participants. The interactive instruction strategy allows for a range of groupings and interactive methods. These may include total class discussions, small group discussions or projects, or student pairs or triads working on assignments together.
  • Experiential learning is inductive, learner centred, and activity oriented. The emphasis in experiential learning is on the process of learning and not on the product. Personalized reflection about an experience and the formulation of plans to apply learnings to other contexts are critical factors in effective experiential learning. Experiential learning greatly increases understanding and retention in comparison to methods that solely involve listening, reading, or even viewing (McNeil & Wiles, 1990). Students are usually more motivated when they actively participate and teach one another by describing what they are doing. 
  • Independent study refers to the range of instructional methods which are purposefully provided to foster the development of individual student initiative, self-reliance, and self-improvement. Independent study can also include learning in partnership with another individual or as part of a small group. It is important that the instructor make sure that learners have the necessary skills in order to accomplish the task. Independent study is very flexible. It can be used as the major instructional strategy with the whole class, in combination with other strategies, or it can be used with one or more individuals while another strategy is used with the rest of the class.


Instructional Methods 

Methods are used by teachers to create learning environments and to specify the nature of the activity in which the teacher and learner will be involved during the lesson. While particular methods are often associated with certain strategies, some methods may be found within a variety of strategies.



Learner Involvement

Capable instructors are aware of the principle of active learner participation. “Given the choice between two techniques, choose the one involving the learners in the most active participation” (Knowles, 1980, p. 240). Below is a sample of techniques categorized according to participant involvement (Cafarrella, 2002) 


Levels of Learner Involvement

Low Involvement

Medium Involvement

High Involvement


Panel discussion


Computer-based drills

Computer-based tutorials

Socratic dialogue


Group discussion

Behavior modeling


Reflective practice–blogs, journals

Asynchronous online forums

E-mail and listservs

Audio/Video conferencing

3D Interactive Learning Activities



Role play


Case studies



Internet searches

Concept mapping

Trial and error



Educational gaming

Second Life—Sims

Real-time relay chats

In-basket exercises

Structured experiences

Problem-based learning

Project-Based Learning

Collaborative Learning

Inquiry Learning




Differences Among Learners

In addition, effective instructors acknowledge the differences among learners.  For example, instructors have recognized that adults bring rich and divergent life experiences, are immersed in various life roles, have preferred learning styles, seek learning experiences that are relevant to their goals, and want practical solutions to problems and issues (Knowles, 1980; Caffarella, 2002). With the advent of “global classrooms” and the recognition that race, gender, class and culture do make a difference, responding to learner differences has become even more challenging.


Learning Styles