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Essential Aspects of Effective Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Learning is now an integral part of the teaching process. Instead of only lecturing to students, instructors now engage students in many different active learning activities, including role playing, simulations, debates, case studies, small group learning, and problem-based learning.  Learners need to interpret content in ways that make it meaningful to them, not just hear or read i 



The posting below is a nice overview of several elements that can lead to effective teaching and learning. It is from Chapter 3 Essential Aspects of Effective Teaching, in the book, Assessing and Improving Your Teaching: Strategies and Rubrics for Faculty Growth and Student Learning, by Phyllis Blumberg. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. []. Copyright ©2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Essential Aspects of Effective Teaching  


Educational Experiences to Promote Student Learning 

Effective instructors plan educational experiences to promote student learning using these common elements: 

  • develop learning outcomes to direct course planning, 
  • relate these learning outcomes to students' acquisition of knowledge, problem solving, critical thinking skills, and values, and 
  • use these outcomes to select appropriate teaching and learning methods and educational technologies.

Learning Outcomes 

Learning outcomes are central to the teaching and learning process (Biggs, 1999; Fink, 2003). Developing learning outcomes is the first critical step in course planning as they set the direction for the entire learning process.  They frame the content to be learned and guide appropriate assessments of learning. Learning outcomes inform students of intentions and direct student study efforts.  Finally they help both instructors and their students monitor their progress (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010). 

A Note about Interrelated and Confusing Terms: Learning Outcomes and Learning Objectives 

Learning outcomes are the big picture, often complex goals that instructors expect students to achieve or learn by the end of the course.  They should be stated in terms of student performance, not what the instructor hopes to achieve, such as what content will be covered.  Learning outcomes are also called instructional goals (Diamond, 2008; Nilson, 2003). Learning objectives are smaller units of learning that flow directly from the learning outcomes.  While a course may have about five larger learning outcomes, each learning outcome may have a few learning objectives associated with it.  For example, learning objectives may describe what students will learn from the discussion in a specific class. The literature often interchanges learning outcomes and learning objectives. In this book, I am referring to the larger learning outcomes. 

During the last half of the twentieth century educators developed objectives using Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy to describe learning experiences (Bloom, 1956).  This taxonomy reflects the behaviorist psychological theories of learning that were accepted in the 1950s and 1960s and identified a hierarchy of levels of cognitive learning from recall to evaluate.  Objectives could also be in the psychomotor or affective domain.  Courses often had such a long list of behavioral objectives that faculty became frustrated and limited their teaching innovations (Diamond, 2008).  With the move towards more accountability and the focus on learning as opposed to teaching, educators are now using learning outcomes.  

You have various learning taxonomies to choose from when developing learning outcomes.  Some of Bloom's original team, along with other scholars (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), modified Bloom's taxonomy to be more consistent with current theories of learning and consider a hierarchy of types of cognitive processes (similar to the verbs used in Bloom's taxonomy) required to learn and four nonhierarchical types of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive.  L. Dee Fink (2003) offers very different taxonomy of learning by identifying six types of learning: fundamental knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn.  Choose the learning taxonomy that best suits your learning goals. 

Teaching/Learning Methods 

I call this element of this aspect teaching/learning methods because I see them combined into one process with a learning-centered approach.  Learning is now an integral part of the teaching process. Instead of only lecturing to students, instructors now engage students in many different active learning activities, including role playing, simulations, debates, case studies, small group learning, and problem-based learning (Fink, 2003).  Learners need to interpret content in ways that make it meaningful to them, not just hear or read it.  Teaching/learning methods can also occur out of the classroom as assignments or in online learning.  

Active learning methods that foster deep and intentional learning often involve interactions with others.  In these situations, students take control of their own learning.  Active learning through discussing the content or solving problems in small groups leads to better long-term retention and the ability to use the material in new situations in the future.  When students articulate their ideas to their peers, hear what others have to say about these ideas, and collaborate on an instructional task, their conceptual learning improves (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Fox & Hackerman, 2003; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005; McKeachie, 2007; Resnick, 1991). 

Most concepts and tasks in higher education are complex, involving different component skills, cognitive processes, and many different facts.  To help students learn, instructors need to break down these complex concepts or tasks into their component parts, provide students opportunities to perform these skills or cognitive processes separately, and then allow them to practice the integrated tasks before assessing them. Instructors can point out the key aspects of the task so students know where to concentrate their efforts (Ambrose et al., 2010).  Reading the educational literature on this topic can be useful as others may have conducted research on how to teach this concept.  Sometimes instructors have trouble seeing these components as distinct because they appear so integrated.  An advanced student or teaching assistant can help unpack these components. When students engage in authentic learning, defined as solving real-world problems, they become more motivated to learn deeply and with intention.  Often students work collaboratively and use technology as they carry out these tasks.  Authentic learning promotes the development of critical thinking and the ability to organize and use information and creativity (Doyle, 2011). 

Acquisition of Knowledge, Skills, and Values 

The contemporary view of learning is defined as knowledge construction.  Psychological research shows that the most effective learning occurs when students build their own associations between new information and their previous knowledge base, not when they memorize how others have framed it (Alexander & Murphy, 1998; Mayer, 1998).  An individual's prior knowledge about a topic influences what and how he or she learns new material; it can help or hinder new learning.  Students' prior knowledge may include appropriate and inappropriate conceptions or beliefs.  Effective teachers find out if their students have incorrect prior knowledge, such as misconceptions or stereotypes, by assessing students; understanding when they begin the course or unit.  Instructors address any erroneous knowledge by challenging the misconceptions directly.  This is especially important in the physical, biological, and social sciences.  Experiences with previous students and the literature in the field further identify common misconceptions and stereotypes (Ambrose et al., 2010; Fox & Hackerman, 2003). 

Motivational theory and cognitive psychology describe conditions that foster this acquisition of knowledge, skills, and values. The relationship between the difficulty of a course and student learning is curvilinear.  The best learning occurs when the course is perceived as difficult enough to be challenging, but still seen as achievable.  Under these circumstances, students are motivated to try.  If a course is too easy, students do not put forth any effort.  If the course is perceived as too difficult, students are not motivated to try because they think there is no way they will succeed (McKeachie, 2007). After three decades of research on college students, Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini (2005) conclude that the student's amount of effort and level of involvement is one of the best predictors of the impact of higher education on him or her.  The more involved and engaged students are with their educational program, the more they will be influenced by their college experience. 

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking 

Employers and society in general expect college graduates to be able to apply the facts for critical thinking and problem solving.  These skills are almost universally required in all careers today (Jones, 2005). 

Problem solving depends on in-depth knowledge of the discipline and the context.  Apt problem solvers generate detailed and correct representations and individualized contexts for problems that accurately represent the dilemma.  These representations and contexts are highly specific according to the organizing structures of that discipline.  Good problem solvers employ discipline-specific procedural skills (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Wittrock, 1998). For example, graduate students in chemistry can solve chemical problems, but their education does not increase their ability to solve problems in other disciplines. 

Effective problem solving draws on different processes: selecting the appropriate strategy, applying this strategy to solve the particular problem, and monitoring the success of that strategy.  All of these processes are essential to successful problem solving.  The task is to give students opportunities to learn and practice different strategies in different types of situations.  Good problem solvers try another strategy when they find that the initial tactic did not work; weaker problem solvers continue to apply the same approach even if it is not working (National Research Council, 2001). 


Alexander, P., & Murphy, P. (1998).  The research base for APA's learner-centered psychological principles.  In N. Lambert & B. McCombs (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 25-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010).  How learning works.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Anderson, L., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing.  New York: Longman. 

Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for quality learning at university. Buckingham, England: Open University Press. 

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives.  The classification of educational goals.  Handbook I. Cognitive Domain.  New York: McKay. 

Branford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experiences and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 

Diamond, R.M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Doyle, T. (2011). Learner-centered teaching: Putting the research on learning into practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus. 

Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Fox, M.A., & Hackerman, N. (Eds.). (2003). Evaluating and improving undergraduate teaching in sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 

Jones, R. (2005). Liberal education for the twenty-first century: Business expectations.  Liberal Education, 91(2), 32-37. 

Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.H., & Whitt, W. (2005). Student success in college creating conditions that matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Mayer, R. (1998). Cognitive theory for education: What teachers need to know. In N. M. Lambert & B. L. McCombs (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 353-377). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

McKeachie, W. (2007). Good teaching makes a difference-and we know what it is.  In R. Perry & J. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective (pp. 457-474).  Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. 

National Research Council. (2001). In J. Pelligrino, N. Chudowsky, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Knowing what students know: The science and design of educational assessment.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 

Nilson, L.B. (2003). Teaching at its best (2nd ed.). Bolton, MA: Anker. 

Resnick, LB. (1991). Shared cognition.  In L. Resnick, J. Levine, & S. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 1-20). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Wittrock, M. (1998). Cognition and subject matter learning.  In N.M. Lambert & B.L. McCombs (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 143-152). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.