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Center for Teaching Excellence

Female College Professor

Teaching Styles

You will realize at some point that your teaching methods and style stem from a specific philosophy of education, even if you aren’t aware of what that philosophy is. Your teaching style reflects on what you value in education, what methods you believe are effective and how your students learn your subject best.

Develop Your Own Teaching Style

Developing an effective teaching style for your subject area requires time, effort, a willingness to experiment with different teaching strategies and an examination of what is effective in your teaching. Don’t necessarily try to mimic favorite teachers from the past. Consider your strengths. Develop approaches that you are comfortable with that maximize student engagement and learning in your subject area.

Consider learning styles and diversify your approach.

Students have different learning styles. Students preferentially take in and process information in different ways: by seeing and hearing, reflecting and acting, reasoning logically and intuitively, analyzing and visualizing. Familiarity with learning style differences will help you understand the implications of your chosen teaching style.  When mismatches exist between learning styles of most students in a class and the teaching style of the professor, the students may become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about the courses, the curriculum and themselves.

To overcome these problems, teachers should strive for a balance of instructional methods through a diversified approach. Tailor your approach to meet student learning needs. You can combine teaching styles for different types of content and diversity of student needs. Some class sessions may rely on lecture while others may employ more interactive models. Your subject-area may determine to what extent you are able to use varied approaches and to what extent you can individualize your instruction.

Teacher-centered approaches have pros and cons.

An example of a teacher-centered approach is the note-taking/lecture model. Teachers may attempt to maximize their delivery of information and control of the class while minimizing their time and effort. 

Pros of teacher-centered approaches are

  • A large amount of information can be shared in a short amount of time
  • The teacher has control of organization
  • The teacher has control of pacing and content
  • Accommodates large numbers of students
  • Allows for quick and easy assessment methods

Cons of teacher-centered approaches are

  • Knowledge controlled by the instructor
  • One-way communication
  • Not necessarily conducive to critical thinking
  • Promotes passive learning
  • Not an optimal way of learning for many students

Two teacher-centered approaches are defined as:

Formal authority: The teacher feels responsible for providing and controlling the flow of the content and the student is expected to receive the content. One type of statement made by an instructor with this teaching style is "I am the flashlight for my students, I illuminate the content and materials so that my students can see the importance of the material." Teachers with this teaching style are not as concerned with building relationships with their students nor is it as important that their students form relationships with other students. This type of teacher doesn’t usually require much student participation in class. 

Demonstrator model: This type of teacher acts as a role model by demonstrating skills and processes and then as a coach/guide in helping students to develop and apply these skills and knowledge. A teacher with this type of teaching style might comment: "I show my students how to properly do a task or work through a problem and then I'll help them master the task or problem solution. It’s important that my students can independently solve similar problems by using and adapting demonstrated methods." Instructors with this teaching style are interested in encouraging student participation and adapting their presentation to include various learning styles. Students are expected to take some responsibility for learning what they need to know and for asking for help when they don’t understand something.

Student-centered approaches have pros and cons.

Many teachers use more interactive approaches in an effort to be responsive to a variety of learning styles. Student-centered approaches require active participation from teachers and students, putting much of the responsibility for leaning on the student. 

Pros of a student-centered approach include: 

  • Engages students in the learning process
  • Encourages student ownership of knowledge
  • Provides real life connections
  • Promotes active learning
  • Fosters critical thinking
  • Addresses multiple learning styles
  • Allows for varied assessment strategies

Cons of a student-centered approach include:

  • More difficult to implement with large numbers of students
  • Can be more time consuming than lecturing
  • Not effective in all subject areas
  • Students may resist new approaches

Regardless of the cons, the results of educational research studies as well as anecdotal evidence generally show that interactive, student-driven teaching results in successful learning for a broader range of learning styles.

Two student-centered models are defined as:

Facilitator: These teachers tend to focus on activities. There is much more responsibility placed on the students to take the initiative for meeting the demands of various learning tasks. Teachers typically design group activities which necessitate active learning, student-to-student collaboration and problem solving. This type of teacher will often try to design learning situations and activities that require student processing and application of course content in creative and original ways. While course content is obviously essential, the facilitator does not make them the principal focus of the course goals. Rather, the goal is to learn how to use the content in a problem-solving way.

Delegator: Places much control and responsibility for learning on individuals or groups of students. This type of teacher will often give students a choice designing and implementing their own complex learning projects and will act in a consultative role. Students are often asked to work independently or in groups and must be able to maintain motivation and focus for complex projects.

A student-centered approach does not undermine the teacher’s authority role in the classroom.

Learn to find a good balance between your role as authority/content expert and co-learner/facilitator. Students appreciate teachers who make the effort to communicate on their level. It is important to find the appropriate balance of how to present yourself with confidence but also to engage as a co-learner to minimize faculty-student distance.

Selected teaching strategies can bridge the distance of a traditional faculty role, some of which can be used in both teacher-centered and student-centered approaches. For example, whether information is presented or discussed, a teacher of either preferred style can use current events to engage students on topics that are relevant to both teacher and students.

Consider using technology to diversify teaching approaches.

Think of different ways to deliver information and different ways to use class time. If students access prepared lectures outside of class via Blackboard (using Camtasia for voiceover Powerpoint or Adobe Connect, for example) you can use in-class time to discuss challenging or interesting information found in the prepared content. On the flip side, if class time is devoted to lecture, post compelling discussion questions on Blackboard for students to engage in outside of class. Integrate the Blackboard time into course grading and class participation rubric.

Try new things!

Finally, think about your teaching. Whether you are early career faculty or have been teaching for years, you may want to adjust your teaching style. Ask yourself questions about how you teach, why you do it that way, and how successfully the students learn the material. Are you meeting the learning needs of students in your classes? Are you flexible in trying new things?

Source: "How Students Learn, How Teachers Teach, and What Usually Goes Wrong" an article from Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent