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Approaches to teaching

‘Good teaching and good learning are linked through the student’s experience of what we do. It follows that we cannot teach better unless we are able to see what we are doing from their point of view’ (Ramsden, 2003, p. 84).

As you develop your practice as a teacher you are also developing your understanding of how students learn. Some questions to consider when reflecting on student learning are:

  • What does it take to learn?
  • What is required to support and encourage learning?

Three levels of teaching

There are three different levels of understanding how students learn and this will influence how you, as a teacher, approach your role in supporting student learning identified by Biggs and Tang (2011).

Level and focus  
Level 1: What the student is The teacher is a transmitter of knowledge. The student is responsible for absorbing this knowledge. Their ability to do so is determined by their individual characteristics (ability, background, experience).
Level 2: What the teacher does While the focus is on what the teacher does to transmit knowledge, there is the additional responsibility on the teacher to ensure that students understand. Teachers are expected to use a variety of strategies and may be blamed if students do not learn.
Level 3: What the student does Refers to a student-centred model of teaching with a focus on students understanding and achieving learning outcomes. The teacher supports learning and focuses on what the student does. Learning is a collaborative activity between student and teacher.

Reflection point

Think about your role as a teacher. Which level would you judge yourself at?

Optional activity

To learn more about the three levels and how teachers approach their teaching watch section 2 titled Teaching of the Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding video (5:00 - 8:12 minutes).

Teacher as facilitator or transmitter

Teaching adults is a complex task. Compared to childhood learning, adults learners have:

  • increased autonomy and self-direction,
  • more experience and mental models of the world, and
  • chosen to engage in learning because of life related events.

The focus of attention moves away from the teacher to the adult learner. The teacher is no longer solely accountable and takes on the role of facilitator of learning (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2015).

In contrast, the teacher may be alternatively be viewed as the authority who transmits knowledge and information to the learner (Kember & Kwan, 2000). These teachers were more likely to be using content-centred approaches to teaching whereas the teachers who conceived of teaching as facilitation were more likely to use learner-centred approaches. The approach teachers take to teaching can therefore be described as on a continuum from a focus on content to a focus on the learner (Kember & Kwan, 2000).

Talking point

Within your context which is the dominant teaching approach: transmitter or facilitator? Why do you think this is so?


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. Fourth edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Kember, D. & Kwan, K.-P. (2000). Lecturers’ approaches to teaching and their relationship to conceptions of good teaching. Instructional Science, 28(5), 469-490.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on approaches to teaching there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney