Saturday, January 22, 2011

From Teaching to Learning Paradigm

"I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think" – Socrates

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn" – A. Einstein

In the quest to explore and probe how teaching-learning practice is best approached, I read with great interest the long (14 pages) article written by Barr & Tagg, “From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Teaching” which was published about 15 years ago. I was interested to get hold of the original article because it is often cited in many discussions (article/book) on student-centered learning vs teacher-centered practice. Basically in the article they compared the traditional “Instruction Paradigm” and the emerging “Learning Paradigm”. The terms are equivalent to “teacher-centered” and “student/learner-centered” that are more prevalent in the contemporary literatures.

Barr & Tagg argued that the purpose of teaching institution (schools, colleges, universities) is NOT to provide instruction (teaching) but rather to produce learning with every student by whatever means work best. They used the term “instructional paradigm” to describe the traditional “teacher-centered” classroom where the teacher talk and most students listen. They asserted that teaching/instruction is the means (method), not the end (purpose) of college education – “To say that the purpose of colleges is to provide instruction is like saying that General Motors' business is to operate assembly lines or that the purpose of medical care is to fill hospital beds (page 13)”. Their contention was, because learning and learning outcome should be the end or the purpose of any college education, the shift to learning paradigm (student-centered) is much warranted.

According to the authors, if the instruction paradigm is to teach, to lecture, and to deliver courses, then in the learning paradigm the mission is to produce learning. They preferred the word 'produce': not 'provide', not 'support', not 'encourage' but to 'produce' learning. It is a question of responsibility and it represents a shift from taking the responsibility for providing quality instruction (lecturing, talking) to taking responsibility for student learning.

Here I summarized some major points from the article:
  • In the Learning Paradigm, a college's purpose is not to transfer knowledge but to create environments and experiences that bring students to discover and construct knowledge for themselves, to make students members of communities of learners that make discoveries and solve problems, and recognizing that the chief agent in the process is the learner.
  • Learning Paradigm views faculty/teacher as primarily the designers of learning environments; they study and apply best methods for producing learning and student success.
  • Learning paradigm views teacher as a coach, rather than a sage on a stage. As a coach, not only he/she designs game plans but also create new and better "games," ones that generate more and better learning.
  • The Learning Paradigm should aim ultimately to provide students with a sufficient grasp of concepts, principles, or skills so that they can apply on new problems and situations. This involves the mastery of functional, knowledge-based intellectual frameworks rather than the short-term retention of fractionated, contextual cues.
  • Knowledge exists in each person’s mind and is shaped by individual experience.
  • Learning environments and learning are cooperative, collaborative, and supportive.
  • Empowering learning is challenging and complex.
[Adapted mainly from an article by Robert B. Barr and John Tagg, "From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education", Change Magazine, Nov/Dec., 1995].

To summarize the key points, I have produced a brief presentation (in 2 parts):
  • Part 1A – A Changing Scenario of Teaching-Learning (4.07 min) and 
  • Part 1B: Student-Centered Learning – The Changing Role of Teacher & Student (4.11 min). 
[NOTE: For best view, I would suggest view in full screen by clicking the "Play in HD" button (the icon on the right of speaker icon)].

Your comments and thoughts are most welcome!


  1. Thank you for sharing your very insightful reflections Prof Karim! It's great to see that there is a growing awareness to move towards student-centric learning that nurture thinking and away from archaic exam-oriented that produce robots :D

    P.s: I feel that it would be best if you provide your presentations with your actual voice or narration from an actual person. Ruth Clark has mentioned in her book, e-Learning And The Science of Instruction that adding that human touch through voice has a better impact on presentations. Nonetheless, you have done an excellent job of creating and sharing your presentations online :D

  2. Hi Frashad, thank you for your kind words. While I thank God for my voice, but for voice over/narration purposes it doesn't sound that good. On the issue of exam-oriented system that is still prevalent, yes, I don't think it's a fair mean to evaluate the overall learners' performance. I would rather use a properly designed formative assessment, provided it is implemented properly.