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Various Pedagogical Approaches, Briefly Described

Prepared by Melissa CF Becker, MSW


Didactic teaching is the traditional teaching method, wherein the professor plans the class and imparts knowledge to students, often using lectures, demonstrations, questioning students, and directed study and assignments. Didactic teaching is used to impart a large amount of information to a number of students at once, and can be helpful when learning factual information. Lectures can be used in conjunction with reading assignments to provide both auditory and visual ways of learning. Using lecture and discussion together can give students an opportunity to become more familiar with lecture material through sharing ideas and reactions with each other, which may aid in a deeper understanding of the material learned.

This educational process is often seen as teacher-centered, where knowledge flows from teacher to student. This method is often termed lecture-based, and courses often contain mainly lectures or a mix of lecture and class discussion. Didactic methods also often include rote learning and memorization based on facts, and test-taking is used to assess learning. Assignments are often completed and graded on an individualized basis.


Dialogic learning is a non-traditional pedagogy wherein the main teaching method is dialogue. Dialogue as an educational process is collaborative rather than competitive or individualistic. Within this approach, the traditional roles of teacher and student are blurred, in that students and teacher share the responsibility for teaching, and knowledge flows in both directions. Students and teacher are jointly responsible for the teaching and learning process. The dialogic pedagogy is characterized by a collaborative, open and respectful exchange of ideas, perspectives, experiences and knowledge, where differences are recognized, accepted and learned from. Dialogue is often used as a method to encourage reflection, inquiry, and evaluation of assumptions. Using dialogue as an educational process includes making explicit issues of domination and subordination, as well as the effects of larger structural and societal forces on issues of power and oppression.


Collaborative/Cooperative Learning is an increasingly popular educational process that emphasizes group or cooperative work both inside and outside the classroom to achieve learning objectives. Collaboration and cooperative learning include mutual interaction, information sharing, and group generation of ideas. Teaching and learning methods often include such activities as peer editing groups, group projects, peer tutoring, classroom group assignments, and cooperative writing projects. Collaborative learning is a student-centered pedagogy, and as such, students are active participants in their learning, and peer-to-peer learning and knowledge sharing is emphasized. Activities, assignments, and group projects are often student self-directed.

Collaborative learning can also include a focus on problem-solving. Problem-solving methods include assigning a practice situation, problem, or case example about which students are directed to answer questions and make decisions regarding what they would do were they actively engaged in the situation. Students often discuss, analyze, and reflect upon their decisions in small groups with the professor available as a resource. Collaborative learning emphasizes students learning from each other and student decision-making; the professor is available as a resource for questions or additional information, but acts more as a facilitator to the process. Working in small groups is often seen as a practice environment for interacting with groups of coworkers and/or clients in the professional environment.


Experiential Learning is a broad term that includes educational methods that focus on the formation of knowledge for practice, often by turning experience into learning. Experiential learning is often seen as learning by doing. A major example of experiential learning is the social work practice of having students work in field practicums for part of their academic credit, in order to prepare them to work in professional practice situations. Other methods of experiential learning include class projects in the community or within the school. In experiential learning, students learn through doing, and knowledge is primarily developed through practice in the field. Experiential learning methods can also be used within academic classrooms, often through techniques such as role play or simulation exercises.

Experiential learning methods often focus on practical learning through a combination of both past and current experiences, and is often student self-directed. In social work, a large part of experiential learning from field practicums combines practice in professional situations with supervision and direction from experienced practitioners and professors, as well as academic work in classroom settings. Experiential learning methods are student-centered, and thus emphasize the validity of students’ past and current experiences, and the importance of experience to student learning. In addition, experiential learning also focuses on problem-solving skills, and thus is an active learning tool to help students gain skills for problem-solving in professional and practice situations.


Reflective learning is a form of experiential learning. Reflective learning focuses on the value of practice wisdom as an essential aspect of knowledge-building. Reflective learning is an educational approach that highlights the importance of practice and a systematic analysis of practice to the development of professional knowledge. In reflective learning, learning occurs through both experience and through reflecting upon that experience. In this way, reflective learning requires a close relationship between the classroom and the field, in that learning and reflecting take place in both environments and, ideally, reinforce each other.

Professors and practicum instructors often encourage reflection on practice through the use of such methods as learning contracts, role play, learning journals, learning partners, group work, self-assessment schedules, and supervision meetings. Reflective learning is an active, rather than a passive, knowledge-building process, and is a form of self-directed learning. The professor’s role is more facilitative than directive in nature. Reflective learning is a student-centered teaching method, as it validates student knowledge gained from experience and focuses on students’ unique ways of reflecting upon and learning from their experiences.


Case-Based learning can be seen as another form of experiential learning, and is often used as a learning tool in conjunction with other teaching methods, such as didactic, dialogic, and collaborative. The main element involved in case-based learning is the use of case examples as a jumping off point for discussion, critical analysis, and problem-solving. Cases are used to help students integrate practice wisdom, knowledge from past experience, theory, critical thinking skills and academic learning to build knowledge for practice. Case examples come from a number of different areas, and can be virtual, role-played, reality-based, in vivo, or created as examples. Actors may be brought in to enact a scenario, students may be brought in to observe a real-life situation in the field, students may describe cases they are experiencing to the class for discussion and problem-solving, or professors may write case examples, either based on true cases or as exemplars of possible scenarios.

Cases describe situations students may experience as professionals, and can include: work with individuals, families or groups on a micro level; ethical or legal dilemmas faced by professionals; workplace interactions or assignments with co-workers; or questions regarding difficult decision-making on an organizational, community or policy level. Case-based teaching methods may use case examples, field experiences, or collaborative group projects/assignments to aid student learning, individually or cooperatively, through the development of decision-making and problem solving skills.


Critical pedagogy uses a critical theory lens to view and analyze knowledge and power in terms of learning and classroom experiences. Critical pedagogy emphasizes the legitimacy of experiential and subjective knowledge. Teaching and learning from a critical stance requires students to gain critical thinking skills and to critically analyze knowledge and power issues from multiple perspectives. Students are also taught skills used to question dominant assumptions and critically analyze dominant societal messages, especially in regards to race x class x gender interactions. Issues of power, domination and subordination, and oppression in sociopolitical elements and larger structural forces are made explicit. Another important element in teaching through critical theory, as discussed in Education Still Under Siege (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993), is an acknowledgement and analysis of the "hidden curriculum," where schools mirror societal inequalities, and structured silences continue the relationships of power and domination found in wider society.

Classrooms have a non-hierarchical authority structure where learning and knowledge flow between and among students and teachers. Critical pedagogy often utilizes dialogue as a major teaching method, wherein students and teachers engage in a learning partnership. The unique contributions of all learners are recognized and valued. Critical pedagogy addresses and seeks to reduce barriers to knowledge acquisition, as well as works to deconstruct cultural and societal norms and representations. The classroom is viewed as a liberatory environment in which the goals of empowerment, community and leadership are highlighted. Personal power and responsibility are emphasized alongside an appreciation of alternative sources of knowledge.

Teaching and learning are seen as participatory and democratic processes in which all voices are able to be heard and everyone is an active collaborator in the learning process. Feminist pedagogy and educator Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientization are examples of critical pedagogy. Feminist pedagogy applies feminist principles and values to the methodology of teaching. The 4th Edition Social Work Dictionary (Barker, 1999) defines educator Paulo Freire’s conscientization as "the process of helping clients and others become aware of and feel concern about a problem, objective, or value" (p. 99).


Problem-Based Learning is a pedagogy that originally came out of epistemological reform in medical school graduate education, and is now gaining popularity in other forms of secondary and higher education. The goals of problem-based learning are: to produce self-directed and life-long learners; to encourage community-based learning; the development of critical thinking skills; and the development of problem-solving skills. Problem-based learning is an active learning pedagogy that generally uses collaborative and independent learning methods. Problems, either reality-based or hypothetical, are given by the teacher to students, often in small groups, who then make decisions regarding what information and resources they need to solve the problem, discuss and analyze the problem, and work together to solve the problem. Problem-based learning is self-directed in that, although the professor is available as a resource and a facilitator, students are responsible for choosing their learning goals and needed resources.

Problems are often ill-structured (i.e. messy or complex), to simulate the conditions that professionals often work within in a real work environment. Problem-based learning can be used in several different ways: as a problem-solving structure in individual courses; as an overarching framework for the curriculum, where problem-focused tutorials take the place of traditional courses; or as a framework for a community-based project to be accomplished by a group of students as part of their coursework. As such, problems can be formulated as classroom-based simulations or as a real-time project done outside the classroom. Problem-based learning is an active learning method that focuses on problem-solving skills and highlights student-centered learning.


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This page posted January 9, 2001