Course: Postgraduate Certificate - Tertiary Level Teaching
Module: Selecting appropriate teaching/learning methods
Page: 24 - Some hints

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Some hints on how to select appropriate teaching/learning methods.

Now that we have surveyed the broad range of teaching/learning methods that are available, let us end this section with some general guidance on how to set about choosing which methods to use with your own students in different situations. It is suggested that you do this by working through the algorithm shown in Figure 4, which can be thought of as a sub-system of the overall systems approach to course and curriculum design that is shown in Figure 1. The various stages of the process should be tackled as follows.

Figure 4 : Algorithm for selecting appropriate
teaching/learning methods

Stage 1 : Clarifying your educational objectives

If you are satisfied that you know exactly what your educational objectives are, whether these are couched in traditional aims/learning outcomes form or in terms of competence descriptors, proceed directly to Stage 2. If not, refer to an appropriate Course Module Descriptor (or the equivalent) and find out what they are. If sufficiently detailed objectives do not already exist, write your own in whatever format is considered appropriate, using the previous section on 'Specifying the Outcomes of Student Learning' for guidance.

Stage 2 : Provisional selection of teaching/learning method(s)

If you are an experienced teacher, you will probably be able to choose an appropriate method (or mix of methods) for achieving a particular objective (or group of objectives) on the basis of 'gut feeling', or 'instinct'. If so, proceed directly to Stage 2. If not, you may find the following general pointers of some assistance.

  • Lower-cognitive objectives. Here, the most obvious method is the lecture, and may well be the best method if your object is to provide your students with an introduction to or overview of a particular area, or to deal with a key topic in your course. You should, however, also consider using an individualised-learning method of some sort, eg directed study of a textbook, use of open-learning materials, mediated self-study, CBL or multimedia, or an assignment or project.


  • Higher-cognitive objectives. Remember that it is nearly always necessary to get your students actively involved in the learning process if such objectives are to be effectively achieved. You should therefore consider backing up any initial teaching by setting the students an individual assignment or project of some sort, or by making use of an appropriate group-learning activity (the seminar approach? a group tutorial? a class discussion? a simulation/game or case study? a mediated feedback session? a group project?) You may also consider backing up such initial teaching with appropriate laboratory or studio work.


  • Affective objectives These are probably the most difficult type of all to achieve. Although you can generally begin to achieve such objectives through straight-forward lectures, these will probably need to be backed up by more powerful 'attitude shapers' such as the use of video, or use of an appropriate group-learning method such as a simulation/game, a role-playing exercise, a mediated feedback session, a seminar or a class discussion. A 'real life' experience of some sort can also be highly effective.


  • Psychomotor objectives The only way to achieve such objectives effectively is to get your students to perform and practise the activity (or group of activities) that you wish them to learn. This will generally require you to organise laboratory or studio work of some type, or to provide work-based experience of some sort. Students will, however, often require to be prepared for such activities through formal lectures and/or demonstrations, or by getting them to watch a specially-prepared video or multi-media presentation.


  • Interpersonal objectives Again, the only way to achieve such objectives effectively is to get your students actively involved. Thus, if you want them to develop written communication skills, give them a task that involves writing (an essay?, producing a seminar paper? producing a report?). Similarly, if you want them to develop oral communication skills, put them in a situation where they are required to speak (making an oral presentation? a simulation/game? a role-playing exercise? a mediated feedback session? a class discussion?) If you want them to develop interpersonal or leadership skills, put them in a situation where they have to work as part of (or lead) a team (a group project? a simulation/game?) or use an appropriate role-playing exercise or mediated-feedback session.


With multi-faceted objectives or competences that transcend conventional domain boundaries, it may, of course, be necessary to employ a battery of teaching/learning methods, or to make use of an integrating activity such as work-based experience or placement.

Stage 3 : Determining whether your students will be comfortable with the chosen method(s)

There is no point in using methods which your students will not be able to handle - because they are not sufficiently mature, for example, or because they lack vital pre-requisite skills or do not have access to essential equipment or facilities. This is a particularly important consideration when planning things like distance-learning courses, where it is absolutely essential to make your teaching/learning methods as 'user-friendly' as possible.

Stage 4 : Determining whether you will be comfortable with the chosen method(s)

It is just as important that you yourself feel comfortable with the teaching/learning method(s) that you are using, for, if you do not, you are very unlikely to use the method(s) properly. Remember that students are very quick to spot a lecturer who is clearly not fully competent in what he or she is trying to do - and quite ruthless in making you aware of this fact. Thus, only use methods that you are confident you can use effectively. If you do not feel happy with a particular method, choose something else, or, take appropriate steps to ensure that you will feel comfortable with the method when you use it (eg by undertaking colleague observation or staff development of some sort).

Stage 5 : Determining whether the method(s) will be practicable

Here, it is necessary to ask yourself such questions as:

- Will I be able to carry out the instruction on my own, or will I need help?
- If so, will such help be available internally? externally?
- Is suitable accommodation available internally? externally?
- Is there sufficient time available?
- Are any vital items of equipment/facilities available internally? externally?
- Are any special resource materials available internally? externally?

If there are any problems that you do not think you will be able to overcome, think again.

Stage 6 : Determining whether you will be allowed to use the method(s)

This is such an obvious question that it is often not even asked, but it is very important. Make sure that what you are proposing to do is culturally appropriate and consistent with the Course Regulations and the Course Module Descriptor, If necessary find out whether your colleagues/subject leader/year leader/ course leader/Head of School will be happy with your plans. If not, either persuade them or think again.

Stage 7 : Using the chosen method(s) with your students

If your ideas have come through Stages 3-6 unscathed, carry out any preparatory work needed to put them into practice. Detailed guidance on how to use all the various methods covered can be obtained from mentors, educational development colleagues or national networks like the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). Good luck!

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