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Facilitating Learning


Education literally means 'to lead forth' or 'bring out' but teachers in post secondary education tend to want to pass on information. Too often approaches to teaching encourage surface learning of numerous facts or the performance of isolated and narrow skills. 

But facts and skills are of little use without understanding.  It is the capacity of individuals to reflect on problems, apply knowledge and skills, work with others and find solutions that is the most important outcome of learning. These abilities are developed over a lifetime and are those that are most valued by employers. For individuals, the ability to participate fully in lifelong learning is therefore the most enabling of skills.

A focus on learning and the application of learning means that the practice of teaching must be learner-centred, flexible and meaningful. Learning is a voluntary activity, and each learner comes to learning with their own understandings, values, assumptions, learning preferences and motivations. Knowledge, understanding and skills are negotiated and developed in a social setting - through interacting with peers, information, teachers, and the broader community.  Teaching and learning practices that provide opportunities for social learning; that place learning in relevant and meaningful contexts; that provide supportive learning environments; and that value and recognise diversity provide for dynamic engagement and deeper learning.

The Department of Chemistry, U.C. Berkeley website Teaching and Learning Philosophy and Strategies describes the role of student and teacher, and learning environment  to support  teaching and learning. 

A personal philosophy

What do you 'mean' when you describe great teaching? What does it look like or feel like when real learning is taking place? What is the teacher doing? What are the learners doing and saying? What is the learning environment like?

Many new teachers find it valuable to ask themselves these questions, to reflect on their own past experiences as learners, and to articulate a personal statement on effective teaching. This is a fine starting point for a continual practice of critically reflecting on your teaching practice.


Biggs, J.B. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university, (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Open University Press/Society for Research into Higher Education.

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. London: Routledge.

Marton, F., Hounsell, D., & Entwhistle, N. (Eds.) (1997). The experience of learning: implications for teaching and studying in higher education (2nd Ed.). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd Ed.). London: Routledge.

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Advice for new teaching staff

If you are new to teaching, you might find the following resources useful to get you started.

Swinburne University have prepared some great Survival Guides for those new to teaching.

Teaching Tips in the form of frequently asked questions from the Centre for Learnership in Learning, McMaster University.

A Berkeley Compendium of Suggestions for Teaching with Excellence.

Honolulu Community College provide ideas for Managing the first day of class - student expectations and Ice Breakers for getting to know your students and them getting to know one another.

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Teaching adults

Malcolm Knowles’ work in the second half of last century was critical in the development of adult learning theory. Knowles identified five key characteristics of adult learners:

  1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to learn: As a person matures his readiness to learn increasingly becomes oriented to the developmental tasks of his social roles.
  4. Orientation to learning: As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his learning orientation shifts from subject-centredness to problem-centredness.
  5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal
    (Knowles, 1984).

This focus on learning implies that the practice of teaching requires a more student-centred, flexible and meaningful approach to designing learning and assessment strategies and processes.

Learner-centred teaching may involve:

Knowles, M. S. et al. (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


O'Neil, G. & McMahon, T. (2005) Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? in Emerging Issues in the Practice of University Learning and Teaching. All Ireland Society for Higher Education, Dublin.

Zukas, M. & Malcom, J. (2001) ‘Pedagogies for lifelong learning: Building bridges or building walls?' Working papers of the Global Colloquium on Supporting Lifelong Learning [online], Milton Keynes, UK: Open University.

Tight, M. (1996) Key Concepts in Adult Education and Training. London, Routledge.

Lifelong Learning - Radio National Australia  Although Lifelong Learning is no longer in production this link connects to the series transcripts. Some series were the result of the creative partnership between Open Learning Australia and the ABC, some are produced by Radio Australia's Education Unit. They were produced with the support of subject specialists from Australia and overseas.

Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy', The encyclopedia of informal education.

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Teaching Generation Y

Over the past decade there has been an increasing focus on the characteristics of ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Net Generation’ students and the extent to which they learn and should be taught in ways that are different to previous generations. Much of this attention can be traced back to Marc Prensky’s seminal article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants which claimed that younger generations of students think and process information differently to earlier generations. Prensky attributed this change to the advent of digital technologies and argued that growing up surrounded by these technologies had fundamentally changed the thinking patterns of younger generations. This, he suggested, means that traditional teaching methods may no longer work.

Questioning these propositions, a recent ALTC-funded project Educating the Net Generation was undertaken by a consortium of four Australian universities. The project sought to explore how university students and their teachers are currently using technologies to support their learning and teaching as well as how these technologies might be better harnessed for teaching and learning in the future. It found that the current reality is much more complex than the picture depicted by Prensky and that even though emerging technologies have the capacity to improve the student learning experience, achieving this requires careful and intentional learning designs and the development of new learning and teaching skills for both students and staff.

As a result of this project, an Educating the Net Generation website has been developed containing practice and policy guidelines as well as resources and tools. A summary of these is provided below, along with other useful resources.


Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy provides a summary of the findings of this ALTC-funded project and a set of practice and policy guidelines regarding learning and teaching with emerging techologies.

Educating the Net Generation: A Toolkit of Resources for Educators in Australian Universities contains research instruments and implementation and evaluation tools that can be adapted and reused by educators when incorporating emerging technologies into their teaching and learning activities.

An Educating the Net Generation online community has been established on edna to enable educators to try out some of the Web 2.0 technologies used during the project and share ideas and resources with others.

Educating the Net Generation is an e-book edited by Oblinger, D.G., & Oblinger, J.L. (2005) that can be downloaded freely either as chapters or as a book.

For a visual snapshot of Generation Y and the challenges they pose for teaching and learning, view the YouTube video A Vision of Students Today developed by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University or the Teaching Generation Y slideshow developed by Alex Miller and available on SlideShare.

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Teaching face-to-face

The following methods are traditionally face-to-face but some of the points raised may also be relevant to other modes of delivery.

Lectures, tutorials and intensives

The University of Technology Sydney Learning and Teaching website has some excellent resources for new academics and preparing for face-to-face teaching.  This includes information on Lectures and Tutorials.

Swinburne University has developed an Effective Lecturing guide and an Effective Tutoring guide which provide detailed descriptions of how to plan effective lectures and tutorials.

A review of intensive teaching formats by W. Martin Davies from the University of Melbourne.


The following resources are provided for those interested in fieldwork.

Teaching large classes

For some excellent resources on teaching and learning in large classes, see Australian Universities Teaching Committees Project on Teaching Large Classes.

Readings you can download from the site include:

  1. Introduction: What's Different About Large Classes?
  2. Student Performance in Large Classes
  3. Teaching and Assessment in Large Classes
  4. Administration and Management of Large Classes
  5. Large Classes across Disciplines
  6. Policies and Trends in Higher Education.

See also Teaching Large Classes Teachers in Action, the BBC World Service.

Teaching small classes

When planning for small classes it is useful to consider and clarify the following:

Have I determined or clarified. . .

Source: Westberg, J. & Jason, H. (1996) Fostering Learning in Small Groups: A Practical Guide, New York.

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Work-integrated learning

When people are asked how and where they learn best, most respond that most of what they have learned came from doing the work itself, with their co-workers in a workplace.

Work-integrated learning enables learning to take place at, through - and be centred on - the working environment. By using the actual workplace and an organisation's objectives as the focus for learning and academic enquiry, work-integrated learning is uniquely structured to benefit both the individual employee and the employing organisations.

Work-integrated learning is promoted as a way of:

Work-integrated learning is not confined to VET; there are many examples of degree and postgraduate programs that span the border between university and work. It differs from 'work experience' in that learning that occurs in the workplace is formally aligned with learning outcomes.


Victoria University has a comprehensive site on Learning in the Workplace.

Work Integrated Learning (WIL): a national framework for initiatives to support best practice reports the outcomes of an ALTC-funded project that explores key challenges facing work integrated learning in Australian universities.

Career development learning: maximising the contribution of work integrated learning to the student experience reports the outcomes of an ALTC-funded project that explores career development learning services and strategies that contribute to and enhance the outcomes of work integrated learning in university programs.

The following workshop was presented by Janice Orrell, Director of Disciplines, Networks & Special Projects at the ALTC, on Friday, 10th August 2007 as part of the OLT visiting scholar program.

Learning to Work & Working to Learning: Making work integrated learning an integral and effective aspect of the University Curriculum

Carrick Discipline Based Initiatives:

Seminar held on Thursday, 9th August 2007.

Carrick Video 2 (136mb)


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Resource-based learning

Resource-based learning is a methodology that allows learners to learn from their own engagement with information and learning resources. Such active learning provides a means by which teachers are able to tailor resources, learning activities, the location of those activities and expected learning outcomes to the needs and abilities of each learner.

Through resource-based programs students develop the skills necessary for gaining access to information, aquiring knowledge and understanding and the ability to use learning resources and information for personal growth and fulfilment. In particular, these programs provide learners with opportunities to:

‘Source Policy Statement- Resource-based Learning and Curriculum’ from the Australian School Library Association.

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Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning occurs as a result of interaction between learners who are engaged in a common task. As with problem-based learning, learning is focused on tasks and learner decision making. Collaborative learning, or cooperative learning, emphasises the social nature of learning and focuses on the development of transferrable learning skills, work skills and life skills.

Leap into Collaborative Learning by the University of Adelaide University is aimed at the university teacher who wishes to explore collaborative learning and explore how it can be put into their practice to enhance teaching and learning.

Cooperative Learning: Students Working in Small Group discusses issues you should consider when designing cooperative and collaborative learning activities.

Collaborative Learning

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Problem-based learning (PBL)

Students cannot learn all the content of a subject area, but they can learn how to learn the skills and knowledge. This is an important understanding for learners as they move closer to being self-directed or independent.

Problem-Based learning places learners in the active role of problem solvers, simultaneously developing higher order thinking, and disciplinary knowledge and skills. Learning (and often assessment) is centred around a problem, a real world query or a puzzle that the learner wishes to solve (Boud 1985).

Engel (1991) articulated some objectives of a PBL course where students should be able to:


PDF:  Leap into Problem-based Learning. This University of Adelaide University publication is aimed at the university teacher who wishes to explore PBL and create a simple structure around which they can build their own PBL course.


Engel, C.E. (1991) Not just a method but a way of learning. In D. J. Boud & G. Feletti (Eds), The Challenge of Problem-based Learning, Logan Kogan.

Duch, B., Gron, S. & Allen, D. (2001) The Power of Problem-based Learning: A Practical "How To" for Teaching Undergraduate Courses in any Discipline, Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Orrill, C.H. (2002) Supporting online PBL: Design considerations for supporting distributed problem solving, Distance Education, Vol 23, No.1, Carfax Publishing.

Lehtinen, E. (2002) Developing models for distributed problem-based learning: theoretical and methodological reflection, Distance Education, Vol 23, No.1, Carfax Publishing.

A comprehensive site describing problem-based learning (PBL) at Queen's University, Canada, includes links to other PBL sites and databases of PBL resources:


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Peer assisted study sessions (PASS)

Peer assisted study sessions (PASS) involve students participating in regular non-compulsory cooperative study sessions led by other students who have excelled at a given unit in the past. The goal of PASS is to help students improve their understanding of key concepts, develop effective study strategies and improve their learning outcomes.

PASS is based on a program called Supplemental Instruction that was created at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1973. Many Australian universities currently run PASS programs and they can be particularly effective for students who are completing units that involve conceptually difficult subject content.


University of Wollongong is the National Centre for PASS in Australia and offers training for other institutions.

University of Western Sydney won a national award for their PASS program in 2008. Their website includes a video of several UWS students talking about their experiences with the PASS program.

The Flinders University PASS website provides extensive information about PASS including a PASS toolkit and resources.

PASS in first year chemistry and statistics courses is a paper by Valda Miller, Elwyn Oldfield and Michael Bulmer from The University of Queensland which outlines the success they have experienced in implementing PASS in compulsory units that students find conceptually difficult. In 2007 the team at UQ received a Carrick (ALTC) Program Award in recognition of their achievements.

Implementing and sustaining successful Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) is a paper by Jane Skalicky, Sally Rogan, Kylie Austin, Dennis Farrugia, and Viola Rosario that discusses key issues related to implementing PASS programs at three Australian universities.


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