What is the best teaching approach?

Getting started


  • What do we mean by a teaching approach?
  • What learning theories could guide my teaching practice?
  • How can I apply principles of good practice to my own teaching?

Teaching Approaches

You can think of your approach to teaching as a description of how you go about teaching your students. This description explains what you do when you teach.

Typically you might describe:

  • The sorts of teaching and learning activities that you have planned (lecture, tutorial, self-directed learning, case study, workshop, workplace learning);
  • Ways in which you try to engage students with the subject matter (provide students with basic facts, relate new knowledge to what students already know, build in interaction, be passionate, be enthusiastic);
  • The ways in which you support your students (encourage questions, set formative assessments, provide constructive feedback). 

A description of your approach to teaching includes:

  • The mode or manner of teaching (lecture, tutorial, bedside teaching, laboratory work);
  • Some understanding of how people learn (learning theory);
  • Some understanding of how to facilitate learning (qualities of the teacher such as passion, principles for good teaching practice such as providing timely and constructive feedback, putting educational theory into practice).

There is no "best teaching approach". However, there are some recognised teaching methods together with a range of learning theories and some principles for good practice in undergraduate and postgraduate education.

Being a reflective teacher and striving for excellence in teaching means considering each aspect of your teaching approach to ensure that you are doing your best to facilitate student learning.

Roger Booth puts himself in the student's shoes:Click to view the video (Requires Flash Player).


If you haven't already done so, take the time to complete the teaching perspective inventory to get an insight into how you approach teaching. 

The teaching perspective inventory is a 45-item instrument that yields dominant and back-up perspectives on teaching. If you can identify your perspective/perspectives on teaching then you can reflect on your approach, consider the merits and drawbacks of your approach and look at other teaching approaches that might enhance your students' learning. This will help you if you decide to write a teaching philosophy (see below). It takes 10-15 minutes to complete the inventory.

Learning Theories

We are not going to detail the various learning theories in this resource. There are other websites such as Learning Theories that do this well. Our purpose is just to provide you with a brief summary of three of the main theories. Note also that one can hold more than one theory at the same time. In fact, it is possible to subscribe to all three views, depending on the subject matter being taught to students.

  1. Objectivists conceive of learning as a process in which learners passively receive an objective body of knowledge that is transmitted to them. Teaching should be structured to transmit the required knowledge to the learner.

  2. Cognitivists view learning as a process of in which learners add new components to their cognitive structure - the structure through which humans process and store information - and/or in which learners re-organise their cognitive structure. Teaching strategies should help students to reorganise their existing cognitive structures/acquire new elements in their cognitive structure.

  3. Constructivists believe that learners construct their own reality or at least that learners interpret reality based upon their interpretations of their experiences. This entails that an individual's acquisition of knowledge is a function of their prior experiences, mental structures, and the beliefs that are used to interpret objects and events. Teaching should be structured to help students to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge so that what is learned is meaningful for the learner. When this happens, recall and application of knowledge improves.


You might want to think about these learning theories in the context of what you need your students to know, understand and be able to do by the end of your course(s).

Remember, students need to know basic facts (transmission and factual recall).
They also need to be able to relate new facts to what they already know so that connections can be made between what has been learned and what is being learned (cognitivism and making sense).
Finally, learners need to be able to apply what they have learned in unique situations where the right course of action will not be obvious (constructivism and interpretation).

Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education have been established on the basis of a review of over fifty years of educational research. Good practice in undergraduate education:

  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty.
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  3. Uses active learning techniques.
  4. Gives prompt feedback.
  5. Emphasises time on task.
  6. Communicates high expectations.
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Your "approach" to teaching undergraduate students might make use of these principles.


How many of the 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education are evident in your teaching?

Principles for Good Practice with Adult Learners

Malcolm Knowles established 7 principles to help adults learn. The term adult covers a wide age range and level of maturity; however, the common denominator is that we expect to see a greater degree of independence and self-direction in adult learners. Our job as a teacher is to facilitate this. Knowles suggested that this can be achieved by:

  1. Establishing an effective learning climate, where learners feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves;
  2. Involving learners in mutual planning of relevant methods and curricular content;
  3. Involving learners in diagnosing their own needs - this will help to trigger internal motivation;
  4. Encouraging learners to formulate their own learning objectives - this gives them more control of their learning;
  5. Encouraging learners to identify resources and devise strategies for using the resources to achieve their objectives;
  6. Supporting learners in carrying out their learning plans; and
  7. Involving learners in evaluating their own learning - this can develop their skills of critical reflection.

Your approach to teaching adult students might be based on these 7 principles.

Helen Roberts on good practice for engaging students in the online environment:

Click to view the video.


Showing that you have used an appropriate pedagogical framework in your teaching is one way in which you might evidence merit in Delivery of Teaching to Facilitate Learning. This page has provided you with theories and principles that might form the foundation of your pedagogical framework.

  • If you feel ready, you might want to start a record in myEPORTFOLIO to reflect on the framework that you use for teaching a particular course. Completing this record will help you to document where you are and to evidence what you do to apply appropriate pedagogical frameworks to improve your teaching.
Merit in the Delivery of Teaching to Facilitate Learning might be evidenced by innovating through e.g. the use of technologies in teaching. Excellence in the Delivery of Teaching to Facilitate Learning might be evidenced by a contribution to teaching at an institutional level along with evidence of the scholarship of teaching to improve learning outcomes. Distinction might be evidenced by an international standing in the scholarship of teaching to improve teaching and learning.

Taking it further

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin.
The seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education are based upon a review of over fifty years of educational research. They are a good place to start if you are looking for straightforward ways to improve/enhance your teaching.

Kaufmann, D. M. (2003). ABC of Learning and Teaching in Medicine. Applying Educational Theory in Practice. British Medical Journal, 326(25 January), 213-216.
This article draws on the work of Knowles to talk about the characteristics of adult learners. However, it is not straightforwardly obvious that adult learners do in fact exhbit these qualities and the article should be read with a critical eye.

King, Alison. (1993). From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.
This is an old article but it has a really clear explanation of each of the three major learning theories. The article also provides very useful examples of how to design teaching and learning activities that actively involve students in the learning process.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance 

During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of 

Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based 

Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75 - 86.


This is a very useful article looking at the evidence base for the efficacy of constructivist and instructional approaches to teaching and learning. The authors draw on cognitive theory to argue that constructivist approaches to learning are not suitable for novice / intermediate learners. Definitely worth a read to understand how these theories might be applied in practice.
Knowles, M. S. (1987). Andragogy in Action: Applying Modern Principles of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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What is the best teaching approach?

“A teaching philosophy can help you to reflect on how and why you teach. If you don’t have a teaching philosophy, you might want to consider writing one. You can take a look at What makes a good teacher? to get started. If you already have a teaching philosophy, you might want to reflect on how the work that you are doing here fits with that philosophy”.