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Adult Learning Theory (Malcolm Knowles) states that we should make every attempt to match our learning content with the varying expertise and personal needs of every learner. Therefore, we should be employing a variety of teaching styles in our classes. We have listed descriptions of teaching styles that you can incorporate and blend into your classes.


Active Learning

What is Active Learning? 

Active Learning “Active learning” refers to a wide variety of behaviors through which learners engage with academic content.  These behaviors go beyond simply reading or listening, and may involve discussion, debate, problem solving, recall of information or task completion.  The modern conception of active learning stands in contrast with outdated notions of learners as “tabula rasa” or as empty vessels into which experts simply pour information.  Instruction that facilitates active engagement with material, either individually or in collaboration with others, has been shown to significantly improve learning outcomes. (Michael, 2006; Prince, 2004)

(Resource: Center for Research on Learing and Teaching , University of Michigan)

 Case Based Learning

What is Case-Based Learning? 


Using a case-based approach engages students in discussion of specific scenarios that resemble or are real-world examples.

This method is learner-centered with intense interaction between participants as they build their knowledge and work together as a group to examine the case.

The instructor's role is that of a facilitator while the students collaboratively analyze and address problems and resolve questions that have no single right answer.

Why Use Case-Based Learning?

To provide students with a relevant opportunity to see theory in practice. Real world or authentic contexts expose students to viewpoints from multiple sources and see why people may want different outcomes. Students can also see how a decision will impact different participants, both positively and negatively.

Many faculty also use case studies in their curriculum to teach content, connect students with real life data, or provide opportunities for students to put themselves in the decision maker's shoes.



 Medical students read about a patient presenting with specific symptoms. Students decide which questions are important to ask the patient in their medical history, how long they have experienced such symptoms, etc. The case unfolds and students use clinical reasoning, propose relevant tests, develop a differential diagnoses and a plan of treatment. Sample cases: The Case of the Crying Baby: Surgical vs. Medical Management(link is external); The Plan: Ethics and Physician Assisted Suicide(link is external); The Haemophilus Vaccine: A Victory for Immunologic Engineering

Problem Based Learning 


What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-based learning is based on complex problems encountered in the real world as a stimulus for learning and for integrating and organizing learned information in ways that will ensure its recall and application to future problems. Problems are raised at the start of the topic, before they have been taught some of the relevant knowledge. By actively engage with the problem, learners develop skills around finding information, identifying what information they still need and possible sources of that information. Learners are able to connect what they are learning in class to their own lives and important issues in their world.

The PBL Learning Process

In PBL, learners encounter a problem and attempt to solve it with information they already possess allowing them to appreciate what they already know. They also identify what they need to learn to better understand the problem and how to resolve it.

Once they have worked with the problem as far as possible and identified what they need to learn, the learners engage in self-directed study to research the information needed finding and using a variety of information resources (books, journals, reports, online information, and a variety of people with appropriate areas of expertise). In this way learning is personalized to the needs and learning styles of the individual.

The learners then return to the problem and apply what they learned to their work with the problem in order to more fully understand and resolve the problem.

After they have finished their problem work the learners assess themselves and each other to develop skills in self-assessment and the constructive assessment of peers. Self-assessment is a skill essential to effective independent learning.

The responsibility of the teacher in PBL is to provide the educational materials and guidance that facilitate learning. The principle role of the teacher in PBL is that of a facilitator or educational coach (often referred to in jargon of PBL as a "tutor") guiding the learners in the PBL process. As learners become more proficient in the PBL learning process the tutor becomes less active.

Why PBL?

Today's world brings with it a rapid explosion of easily accessible knowledge. Today graduates need to be self directed and possess lifelong learning skills. They need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and analytical in their approach. The inter-disciplinary nature of work means that they need to be able to integrate knowledge and skills from a number of disciplines as well as have the interpersonal skills to be an effective team member.

Problem-based learning activities are designed to develop transferable skills and attributes along with the appropriate discipline specific knowledge. Transferable skills/attributes are part of the degree level expectations that represent the intended outcomes for a university education and are being written into program curriculum. Problem-based learning challenges students to develop the ability to think critically, analyze problems, find and use appropriate learning resources.



Team Based Learning  


What is Team Based Learning?

Team-based learning (TBL) is a pedagogical strategy that engages student knowledge through individual testing and group collaboration. Following individual answers, students join teams and work through problems, appealing when they are incorrect. This process motivates students by holding them accountable to themselves and one another, while introducing them to a variety of thought processes devoted to a single problem. To increase motivation and introduce a fun gaming environment, instructors often group their students into teams and have them compete on various classroom learning tasks.

The strategy is flexible enough to be implemented in classes of varying sizes including large lecture courses, and students have reported growing in their creative thinking and oral communication through TBL (Huggins, et. al, 2015); a formalized version of the strategy can be found at the Team-based Learning Collaborative(link is external).


Team-based learning typically follows a set procedure (adapted from the Team Based Learning Collaborative): 

  1. Students complete pre-class readings and/or other assignments. 
  2. At the beginning of class, students complete an Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT) to measure what they learned from their pre-class assignments. This test follows a short multiple choice format using questions that fall on the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The goal of this assessment is to hold students accountable for the material. 
  3. After completing this assessment, students join with their team and complete a Team Readiness Assurance Test (tRAT) using a special scratch-off form called an Immediate Feedback Assessment (IF-AT) form(link is external). When the team scratches off the correct answer they will see a star. If they scratch off an incorrect answer, they continue discussing until they have the right answer. Instructors may also consider designing conventional mini-quizzes on paper instead of using the IF-AT forms. In this case, instructors will need to provide the solutions after students respond.  
  4. Students next have the chance to appeal any questions they answered incorrectly.
  5. The instructor provides a mini-lecture on areas where the students are still having trouble. 
  6. Students engage with activities that apply and extend knowledge gained. Through their experiences with teamwork and knowledge gained through collaboration, the benefits of collaborative work during TBL can extend beyond the classroom.

Flipped Classroom 

( Resource

What is Flipped Classrom:

In a flipped classroom, material typically explored in lecture is delivered outside of class through video lectures, lecture slides, digital modules, and/or other online media. In place of traditional lecture, class time focuses on the development of knowledge through active learning strategies like discussion, problem sets, case studies, group activities, or experiential learning. Research into the effectiveness of flipping a classroom continues to develop, with mixed results as to their greater effectiveness over traditional structures. A few studies suggest that flipping the classroom can improve students’ conceptual grasp of content beyond memorization and basic knowledge (Berrett 2012 and Casasola 2017). In their variable nature, flipped classrooms can also provide students with a greater mixture of activities, media, and opportunities to participate, thus serving more diverse populations and assuring more inclusive opportunities (Lage, 2000).

Vanderbilt University has some excellent Teaching Guides:

Principles & Frameworks

Pedagogies & Strategies