Teaching Approaches

From my perspective, there are two fundamental approaches to teaching and learning: didactic approaches and constructivist approaches.

In a gross oversimplification of the two, didactic approaches emphasise the teacher as being an expert who is responsible for the teaching process, and the aim of the teacher is to ensure that the learner meets some pre-defined learning objectives. Constructivist approaches emphasise a hands-on, exploratory, student centred learning environment where the teacher is in place to guide the learning process toward some pre-defined learning objective. Although few teachers are either entirely one or the other, a teacher’s approach to teaching reveals their leanings. I think that the two approaches to teaching and learning are both necessary, for different types of subject matter, and, in an age of information abundance, assessment and accreditation takes on different meanings with each.

If we take basic reading and arithmetic skills (not exactly HE material for most students), a direct, didactic approach is important. The students need to know the basics before they even know what to explore. However, once the basic skills are in place, learning by applying those skills is important, and so the constructivist approach becomes increasingly important. The assessment and accreditation of basic skills is not the same as the assessment and accreditation of either the application of basic skills or higher order thinking skills.

If there is a correct answer, assessment and the accreditation that follows is a straightforward process. However, if there are a number of ways that an answer can be obtained, a number of possible outcomes to a problem, or if higher order thinking skills need to be evaluated, assessment and accreditation are far more complicated.

This is a potential problem for learning in a world of information abundance. If straightforward skills or knowledge are required (computing, mathematics, foundation classes in most areas), machine marking and MOOCs provide a potential solution that can deliver easily measurable and quantifiable outcomes from assessment methods that can be accredited with no problem.

However, if what is desired involves higher order thinking (critical evaluation, synthesis of knowledge), or if there are multiple solutions to a problem, the outcomes are not easily assessed or accredited. For this reason, I have difficulty understanding how this kind of learning is going to overcome the institutional resistance to new ways of teaching and learning that are emerging today.

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