Meredith Tumilty

Manager, Academic Success Center

Our Stance

Making decisions about how to approach teaching a lesson is a reflective process. Instructors often choose to approach teaching the same course material in different ways. In fact, an instructor teaching two sections of the same course might choose to approach the same lesson differently in each class. Ultimately,

the teaching method – whether a direct or guided instructional practice – an instructor decides to use to achieve a course objective is up to them, but the choice should be thoughtful and consider various factors to ensure that the decision is appropriate for the learning situation.  


The goal of teaching is to promote learning. To accomplish this goal, an instructor must choose a teaching method that is appropriate for the specific learning situation. There are different teaching methods an instructor can utilize to teach a particular lesson. When thinking about how to approach teaching a specific lesson, a few different factors should be considered: 

  • Who are the learners? 
  • What is the learning objective? 
  • What is the course content? 
  • How much time is allocated?  
  • What's the instructor's teaching style?  

It's important to consider these factors to ensure that the type of instruction fits the learning needs. For instance, understanding the characteristics that make up the specific student population one is teaching will help to determine which instructional methods or strategies will be most effective. If the instructional method does not fit the needs of the learner, then learning will not take place and the lesson will be unsuccessful. Knowing the purpose of the lesson is also extremely important in deciding what methods to use; both the learning outcomes and course content will dictate what strategies will be the most effective. In addition, instructors should acknowledge time limitations, as well as recognize how their own teaching style plays a role in this decision making process. Ultimately, the teaching method should match the needs of the learning situation in order for the lesson to have the greatest chance of success.  

Once these factors have been considered, then it is time to determine what teaching method(s) to use. Most teaching methods fall into one of two categories: direct instruction or guided instruction. In some cases, a blend of both can be used to achieve the learning goals.

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is a teaching method in which an instructor utilizes lectures and/or demonstrations to teach course material. Direct instruction teaching practices are primarily utilized to convey information. Usually with this model, the instructor stands at the front of the classroom and presents information about a subject or shows students how to complete a task with very little or no participation from students. As a result, direct instruction is an instructor-centered model of teaching. This method has historically been used at college and universities because it lends itself to being able to present information efficiently to large groups of students. 

This approach has some benefits but also some drawbacks. Direct instruction can be an efficient mode of content delivery when an instructor has material he or she must present to students but the time to do so is limited. It is also an effective instructional strategy to consider if the instructor is an expert on the subject matter and is a stimulating presenter who can hold the attention of his or her students. Direct instructional practices can also provide structure within a class. Conversely, one of the most profound disadvantages of using direct instruction is that it is not active learning approach to teaching; instead direct instruction relies on students taking a passive role in the learning process. There is a lot of debate on whether or not this type of instruction facilitates learning in the classroom; for some students it may be effective, but for others it does not fit the needs of their learning style.  

Guided Instruction

On the other hand, guided instruction is a constructivism approach to education. Proponents of guided instruction regard learning as an active and social experience. They believe that students learn best from their interactions with the world. With guided instructional teaching practices, the students take an active role in the educational process and the instructor acts as a facilitator or guide. With guided instruction, students learn from their experiences, making it an inquiry-based or discovery-based model of teaching. A variety of teaching strategies fall under the umbrella of guided instruction, including but not limited to the following: 

  • discussions, including the Harkness discussion method  
  • workshops 
  • seminars 
  • case studies 
  • collaborative learning 
  • project-based learning (PBL) 
  • role play 
  • debate 
  • flipped classroom 

Guided instruction, like direct instruction, has both advantages and disadvantages. In terms of benefits, guided instructional practices are very student-centered and foster an active learning environment. Often times, guided instruction strategies are grounded in learning experiences that are authentic and have real-world applications. This, in turn, facilitates higher-order thinking skills is engaging for students. They often have a social component, which allows students opportunities to engage with their classmates, exchange ideas, and learn how to work together towards a common goal. Another advantage of guided instruction is that it gives students ownership over their education. During guided instruction activities, much of the responsibility for learning falls on the student, which can have a lot of benefits but can also be difficult for some students. In addition, with some guided instructional strategies students are challenged and pushed outside of their comfort zones. This can have its advantages, but it also has its drawbacks if students are not motivated or willing to participate in the process.  

 See also: active learning, student-centered approach

Learning Resources

The following will provide more information on implementing student-centered learning: 


Beyond 'Constructivism Versus Direct Instruction' 

How To Create Memorable Lectures 

Teaching Is Not Learning: The Guided Discovery Approach to Teaching 


Turning Lectures Into Learning 


How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint 


 Constructivism: Overview & Practical Teaching Methods  


Active Learning & Student Performance