Teaching and Learning Techniques

Years ago, college students typically entered the classroom anticipating lecture, discussion, lab, or some combination of the three. Today, however, their expectations have changed, and we find ourselves struggling to integrate a variety of approaches—service learning, problem-based learning, critical thinking, active learning, case-based learning, and more—into our courses. The choices seem endless!

But the use of these techniques and strategies is far from arbitrary. Linda Nilson recommends that “your student learning outcomes provide the foundation for every aspect of your course,” and that “you should align all the other components with them. As the ends of your instruction, your outcomes inform your choice of teaching methods (the means of your instruction), which encompass all the learning experiences you give your students in the form of assignments and activities” (2016). Choose those assignments and activities deliberately, intentionally, and wisely.

The table below recommends when to use various techniques in the classroom:




Building skills Behavioral learning Tasks and procedures, practice exercises
Acquiring knowledge Cognitive learning Presentations, explanations
Developing critical, creative and dialogical thinking Learning through inquiry Discussions, question-driven inquiries
Cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities Learning with mental models Problems, case studies, labs, projects
Exploring attitudes, feelings and perspectives Learning through groups and teams Group activities, team projects
Practicing professional judgment Learning through virtual realities Role play, simulations, dramatic scenarios, games
Reflecting on experience Experiential learning Internships, service learning, study abroad

Adapted from  "Thriving in Academe", an NEA & POD Joint Project

A variety of learning styles can be utilized to achieve these goals, such as active learning, service learning, critical thinking, problem-based learning, and case-based learning.



  • Consider flipping your classroom. Devoting class time to activities means there will be less time available for lecture. Consider new ways of conveying content and checking for understanding outside of class (perhaps through readings, online quizzes, or recorded lectures), so your class periods can focus more on higher-order thinking and learning.
  • Plan carefully before using a new teaching technique in the classroom. Adopting even a relatively non-invasive new technique in the classroom can entail a great deal of logistical preparation. Envision your needs ahead of time and anticipate any problems that may arise.
  • Don’t try to change everything at once. Major revisions to a course can be daunting and even overwhelming; take baby steps when trying new techniques.

Additional resources:

  • Chick, Nancy and Gurung, R (2012).  Exploring More Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Fink, L. Dee.  (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Nilson, Linda B. (2016). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • McKeachie, W. J. and Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie's teaching tips : Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (14th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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