Choosing Teaching Strategies

Curriculum planners typically choose among five basic teaching formats, which may be combined in various ways.

  • Individualized instruction places responsibility on each person for progressing through prescribed materials or activities at his/her own learning rate.
  • Tutorial calls for the instructor to interact with each participant on an individual basis. The learner is generally required to do some reading or other preparation prior to dialogue. There is extensive Socratic interaction between instructor and learner.
  • Small group instruction provides for group interaction and participation by either learners alone or learners and an instructor. This format includes both learner-centered discussion and instructor-led seminars.
  • Large group, often referred to as the lecture-discussion method, is the "traditional" format. It places responsibility on the teacher for presenting material to participants and controlling the group's progress. The group moves at the same pace.
  • Experiential has three major forms:
    1. Internships - The intern usually assists the efforts of an instructor, a practitioner, or a more advanced learner. Clinical teaching/learning in health professions education falls into this category.
    2. Learner-initiated projects - The learner has complete responsibility (though assistance may be available). This is distinct from projects required as an assignment in a regular course.
    3. Participation in scholarship and/or research - The learner participates in an ongoing enterprise as an autonomous individual or as a colleague in research group. This may naturally follow an internship, depending on the learner's capability.

The table below summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of the various teaching strategies.


Advantages and Disadvantages of the Five Teaching Strategies

Format Advantages Disadvantages
Individualized Instruction

"Mastery model" accommodates variation in learning pace; works well where mastery of specified material is desired.

Large groups (200+) are a managerial challenge.

Person is active participant throughout learning process.

Procrastination is problem for persons without high motivation.

Effective in cognitive domain.

Doesn’t routinize peer interaction; therefore probably less effective for attitude change.

Person gets immediate feedback, help on individual basis.

Unit structure de-emphasizes interrelatedness of subject matter unless extreme care is taken in designing materials.

Allows easy application of variety of instructional media.

Format Advantages Disadvantages


Allows instructor to be responsive to each participant.

Inefficient, takes much time.

Learner interacts and participates.


Tutoring one’s peers results in greater learning for the tutor.

Format Advantages Disadvantages
Small Groups: Learner-Centered

Highly effective for attitude change and high-level cognitive mastery, long-term retention

Rate of transfer of specific content relatively slow and unreliable.

Promotes much interaction with peers.

Large class requires careful planning and management.

Motivation comes from peers, not the instructor.

Methodology requires a "trained" instructor or facilitator.

Participants learn to collaborate to solve a problem.

Difficult to evaluate the progress of an individual separately from the progress of the group.

Format Advantages Disadvantages
Small Groups: Seminars

Easy to implement, good compromise with many of advantages of large groups, small groups, and individualized instruction.

Not as cost-effective as small groups, individualized instruction, or lectures in situations for which these formats are best suited.

Makes for congenial learner-learner interaction without need for facilitator trained in group activities.

Groups must be small for effectiveness.

Leader can make "lecturette," and small size allows for questions by participants and tailoring of presentations to their reactions and needs.

Requires motivated, interested participants for lively sessions.

Learners are often active participants, making presentations on specific topics.


Especially useful for workshops or groups meeting informally or infrequently.

Format Advantages Disadvantages
Large Group (Lecture/Discussion)

Careful, lucid presentation of material.

No better than a given instructor on a given day. Can’t accommodate individual differences well (so participant attention often wanders).

Participants see professional mind at work.

Learner is passive.

Effectively conveys "low-level" information and skills.

Conveys "high-level" information and skills poorly.

Accepted format by educational community (teachers and students).

Limited opportunity for questions (and one person’s questions often not of interest to others).


Practice opportunities relatively limited; feedback often slow.

Format Advantages Disadvantages

Person gets bona fide taste of professional life, a chance to experience the responsibility and variety of pressures to which professional is vulnerable.

A supervisor needed for each participant; time-consuming.

Participants learn not every problem is solvable, that failure is a necessary companion to success in any scholarly endeavor.

Participant is additional person dependent on support facilities of lab or department.

Participant has opportunity for hands-on "learning by doing."

Learner has the opportunity to integrate and apply knowledge and skills  
Choose… When…
Small group.... is important that experiences be shared and multiple viewpoints discussion explored.
Lecture... is necessary to provide new information quickly to a large group.
Lecture... illustrate how at least one person is able to wrestle with a large amount of information and integrate
and make sense out of it.