Instructor writing on board

More Instructional Strategies

In order to achieve predetermined learning goals and objectives, face-to-face and online/hybrid instructors need to identify and employ appropriate instructional strategies to best facilitate the course and to engage students throughout their learning experiences. Instructional strategies determine how the course will be developed and implemented.

Although developed for traditional face-to-face instruction, most instructional strategies can be successfully adapted for facilitating online/hybrid learning as well. The rapid development of technology over the past decade has made these strategies available for online/hybrid instructors to apply to their courses. Below are some examples of successful instructional strategies:

Case-Based Teaching

Case-based teaching strategies use real-life learning scenarios to promote active student learning. These strategies encourage students to reflect and think critically about real-life decisions. Most case studies are narratives, designed to engage students in research and analysis of a specific problem or set of problems. They can be used to facilitate reflective discussion and generate higher order thinking throughout the investigative process. Case studies can also be adopted in the online/hybrid learning environment.

Examples and Resources

  1. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science from the University of Buffalo – A comprehensive site for all scientific disciplines, links to numerous articles on case study teaching in science plus an extensive collection of cases.
  2. Teaching with the Case Method from Carleton College  – There are enormous detailed examples of teaching with the case methods.
Discussion-Based Strategies

Discussion-based teaching has been defined as “an instructional approach that prioritizes learner acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes through discourse rather than passive approaches that focus on lecture, reading, or viewing”. With Discussion-based teaching, learners engage by actively listening and contributing as opposed to passively digesting information via a lecture (Hall, 2015).


Discussion is a widely used instructional strategy for all learning environments (face-to-face, online, and hybrid), because it encourages active participation and interactions from students, helps to create a sense of learning community, and fosters communication.

One example – the Harkness Table – is a face-to-face teaching method designed to move the instructor to the role of facilitator. This method requires small groups of students (roughly 8 – 12) to gather around a round table to share their thoughts and ideas on a discussion topic. The Harkness Table is meant to encourage equality, enable introverted students to speak up, and prevent other students from dominating conversations. For more details, please read Emily Long’s article cited below.


In the online environment, a discussion forum is a place where students share resources, negotiate meanings, and construct knowledge collaboratively. As the center of interaction and learning in an online course, discussion is regarded as the core of the learning environment. Therefore, it is important to appropriately design online discussion activities and foster productive online discussions. There are two types of online discussion: asynchronous (such as discussion boards and email) and synchronous (like, chat rooms and web conferencing).

Resources and References

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is an inductive, learner-centered, and activity oriented strategy. Personalized reflection on experiences and the formulation of plans to apply learning to other contexts are critical factors. Experiential Learning is effective in providing opportunities for students to engage and apply academic understanding through hands-on experience. There are many methods and tools that can be considered for Experiential Instruction such as simulations, field observation, games, storytelling, and surveys. Some methods and tools are highlighted here:

Field-Experience

Field experience is utilized most often in face-to-face courses, but can be integrated into online/hybrid learning as well. For example, online/hybrid students majoring in art history frequently visit local museums to view examples of artwork presented in class. Face to Face example: Revamping a Graduate-level Dendrology Course (Riddle, Cagle, 2017)

Games/Simulations

Games and simulations allow learners to practice skills, acquire knowledge and learn concepts while having fun. Tools such as Kahoot can be used by faculty in order to conduct formative assessment in the form of an online, in-class game. In addition, technologies such as SimCity provide virtual environments for students to explore, like Center of the Cell and the many simulations found on Phet can offer students experiences that might be impossible in real life.

Role-Playing

A role-playing strategy is a way to ask students to act out specific characters or scenarios. For example, in a business class students may act as a buyer or seller of a specific product. In doing so, students develop a better understanding of the concepts they’ve learned by applying them into a real-life situation.

Integrative Learning

Integrative learning is an approach that encourages students to make connections among various curricular and co-curricular experiences or between academic work and engagement with social and community work. In other words, this approach encourages students to make meaningful connections across various courses, disciplines, or fields.

One example of integrative learning at Montclair State is the Internship in School Leadership course (ELAD 615), a requirement of the Educational Leadership Masters program. The course requires at least 300 hours of project-based fieldwork which extends and applies course-based knowledge to real-world situation. At the end of the course, students are required to submit an ePortfolio to showcase their professional work experience. In essence, integrative learning requires students to apply what they have learned from the various academic experiences to a real-world scenario. This is a skill that is highly valued in the workforce and promotes deep learning (Huber, Hutching,s & Gale, 2005)


The term “integrative learning” represents many different behaviors that can range from the simple and commonplace to the complex and original. “Making connections” among learning experiences begins in early childhood and continues throughout life. (Miller, 2005)

Miller goes on to suggest that integrative learning at the college level might often involve:

  • usefully blending knowledge and skills from different disciplines, as in a learning community
  • putting theory into practice, as in a student teaching semester or nursing clinical practice
  • considering multiple perspectives to advance collaborative problem solving
  • adapting the skills learned in one situation to problems encountered in another
  • reflecting upon connections made over time among a variety of experiences
  • “across-the-curriculum” integration of skills in disciplinary or interdisciplinary settings

ePortfolios represent a common example of integrative learning. An ePortfolio is a collection of digital files (artifacts) that are shared electronically for the purpose of reflection, comment, and evaluation. It’s often a simple website that enables users to collate digital evidence of their learning. ePortfolios contain a wide range of digital files, including but not limited to, text or PDF documents, videos, sound files, images, and links to other websites or online resources. For more information on ePortfolios at Montclair State, visit our ePortfolio page.

Resources and References

Interactive Instruction

Interactive Instruction is a strategy that heavily relies on discussion, debate, and sharing among participants. Interactive Instruction is effective for promoting students’ social skills and ability to organize their thoughts to form rational arguments. There are many methods and tools that can be considered for Interactive Instruction such as debates, role-playing, peer review, structured controversy, audio interviewing, etc. A few methods are highlighted below:

  • Peer Review: Students complete their individual assignments or short papers. Before they submit the assignments, students share their work with a partner or group and provide constructive feedback to each other. It is recommended that instructors provide a comprehensive rubric to guide students on how to conduct peer review. This is especially helpful for writing assignments.
  • Role Playing: Allows students to understand other people’s positions and responsibilities by acting out various roles. It can help them understand the range of concerns, values, and positions held by other people. Students interact in a structured environment from the perspective of course-specific characters. Roles can be assigned or students can be given a choice of roles to play. Preparation for the role needs to be done by the student prior to the lesson. This can be done through self-guided research and self-assessed comprehension of the lesson’s key concepts. Expectations of outcomes need to be clearly articulated by the instructor for each role-playing session for all individuals involved. Students will need to demonstrate knowledge of the lesson’s key concepts through the role play experience. This strategy can be used in the online environment through recorded performances or interview sessions using digital tools.
  • Student-generated test questions: The instructor disseminates a list of the learning objectives for a specific unit to students. Meanwhile, an example of Bloom’s taxonomy is also distributed. Students are then divided into small groups and instructed to create test questions corresponding to the learning objectives and the different levels of the taxonomy. The instructor can either ask each group to share their favorite questions with the entire class or, once approved, distribute the student-generated test as a study guide. This strategy can be used for a quiz, a midterm or a final exam.
Learner-Centered Teaching

Learner-centered teaching means subjecting every teaching activity (method, assignment or assessment) to the test of a single question: Given the context of my students, course, and classroom, will this teaching action optimize my students’ opportunity to learn? (Doyle, 2008)

Also known as student-centered education, this approach is widely considered to be superior to traditional lecture-based teaching. A learner-centered approach leads to more collaboration between students, facilitates learning communities, and fosters the experience of students learning from each other. A key goal of student-centered education is increased student engagement in the classroom.

Examples and Resources

  1. Learner Centered Teaching: Largest Resource for Learner Centered Teaching on the Web (Terry Doyle, Ferris State University). A personal website on which Terry Doyle has gathered a great deal of useful information about learner centered teaching, much of it coming from his own work as a faculty developer.
  2.  “The Learner-Centered Syllabus: From Theory to Practice in Allied Health Education,” Kimberly S. Peer (Kent State University) and Malissa Martin (College of Mount St. Joseph). (International Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, Vol. 3, No. 2). Suitable for all disciplines, this article discusses the paradigm shift from teaching to learning and describes the elements of a syllabus that focuses on student learning.
  3. Using wiki-based course design to create a student-centered learning environment” by Qian Hu & Erik Johnston
Learning Communities

In a traditional classroom, students interact with each other in the same physical classroom space. This frequent face-to-face contact helps students build friendships and create a learning community. However, an online/hybrid learning environment does not provide such a sense of community unless the instructor provides community-building opportunities, such as group assignments, discussion forums, and other social activities. Below you will find several research-based frameworks to inform your thinking about how to enhance community and interaction in your online/hybrid courses, as well as face to face environments.

Community of Inquiry
Peter Shea and Temi Bidjerano contend that the traditional community of inquiry model (Anderson, Garrison, and Archer 2001) should be revised to include Learning Presence (Shea, Bidjerano, 2010) and therefore, be comprised of four key integrated elements:

Cognitive

The extent to which the professor and the students are able to construct and affirm meaning through sustained discourse (discussion) in a community of inquiry is cognitive presence. It is a vital element in enhancing critical thinking. Cognitive presence can be demonstrated by introducing factual, conceptual, and theoretical knowledge into the discussion.

Social

Social presence is the complete and interactive educational experience of participants in the didactic process.

Teaching

Teaching presence supports the design and management of an educational experience and facilitates the communication between teachers and students. Teaching presence supports and enhances both cognitive and social presence in achieving educational outcomes.

Learning

Learning presence involves learner self-regulation and self-efficacy, predominantly in the online environment. Self-regulated students monitor their time and cognitive strategies, regulate their own study environment, and manage their interactions with peers to maximize learning. Furthermore, the relationship between teaching presence and self-efficacy is stronger for students in blended learning environments and self-efficacy and effort are dynamically associated with teaching and social presence.

A revised CoI model (Source: Shea & Biderjano, 2010), available via license: CC BY 4.0

Deep and meaningful learning is generated through the interaction of these core elements within a community of inquiry. Building a community is important for any course, but essential for online courses. It is important to emphasize the joint development of the above elements in order to foster community in the class. This encourages students to feel comfortable in the course, establishing relationships and openly discussing course content with peers.

Cultivating a strong sense of community takes time, commitment and good planning.
The following are some suggested activities for the online environment to help build a social learning community:

Lecture-Based Instruction

Lecture-Based or Direct Instruction is an explicit, intensive instructional method that is highly teacher-directed and skills-oriented. Direct Instruction emphasizes the use of clear and concise language to break concepts into manageable steps. The strategy is effective for providing specific guided information and in developing step-by-step skills. There are many methods and tools that can be considered for Direct Instruction, such as drill and practice, compare and contrast, demonstrations, etc. Some methods and tools are highlighted below:

Lecture

One of the oldest and most frequently used instructional methods, lecture relies on the belief that the instructors are experts and responsible for disseminating information. Lectures can be delivered either at the beginning of the learning unit as an introduction to the material or at the end of the unit as a summary of the key concepts covered. It is highly recommended that it be used in combination with other instructional strategies. In online/hybrid courses, lectures can be delivered in a variety of forms. For example, lectures can be presented via audio or video and embedded in the modules. Lectures can also be created with presentation tools and linked to specific modules. In addition, lecture notes can be uploaded to the course site for students to review.

Didactic-Questions

Didactic questioning helps the instructor structure the learning process. Didactic questions tend to be convergent, factual, and often begin with “what,” “where,” “when” or “how.” They can be effectively used to diagnose recall and comprehension skills, to draw on prior learning experiences, to determine the extent to which lesson objectives were achieved, and to aid retention of information or processes. Online/hybrid instructors should note that didactic questions need to be provided with explicit instructions in order to minimize potential confusion.


Refer to our Practical Teaching Guides for examples of Direct Instruction.

Problem-Based Instruction

A highly learner-centered strategy, problem-based Instruction takes advantage of students’ interests and curiosity by involving them in observing, investigating, and/or solving problems. The role of the instructor is to facilitate and mentor with suggestions or hints. Indirect Instruction can support active learning and critical thinking and help students develop metacognitive skills. There are many methods and tools that can be considered for Indirect Instruction such as problem-solving, reading for meaning, reflective discussion, writing to inform, concept formation, and concept mapping.

A number of methods and tools are highlighted here:

  • Concept Maps: Concept mapping is a way to illustrate the relationships and connections between terms and concepts. Developing a concept map helps students to identify and organize the knowledge and information in a meaningful way. This will help them practice their critical thinking skills and higher order thinking.
  • Blogs: Blogging is a simple and straightforward way to help students integrate content, process, and personal feelings. Writing on a blog helps students learn from writing rather than writing what they have learned. Blogs are commonly used in assessing literacy but there are many crossovers into content areas other than those associated with reading and writing. Blogging can be done as a role-playing activity, to timeline historical events, and to collaborate with peers and audiences beyond the class.
  • Journals: Journal writing is a learning tool based on the idea that students write to learn. Students use the journals to write about topics of personal interest, to note their observations, to imagine, to wonder, and to connect new information with things they already know. Using journals fosters learning in many ways. Students who use journals are actively engaged in their own learning and have the opportunity to clarify and reflect upon their thinking.

For more guidance on designing or managing an online/hybrid course, we encourage you to meet with our Instructional Designers by requesting an Instructional Design Consultation. You can also refer to our Practical Teaching Guides for examples of the different strategies listed above.