Teaching According to How Students Learn

M. M. Shahidul Hassan

23 August, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Teaching According to How Students Learn

M. M. Shahidul Hassan

In many universities in Bangladesh, there are state-of-the-art classrooms to facilitate teaching, which is the core function of education, but the university authorities allow teachers to teach without any formal qualifications in teaching and learning. University, whether it is a teaching or a research one, should constantly try to improve the experience of both teaching and learning for teachers and students alike. The present teacher-centred learning has now become outmoded, eventually requiring reviewing and modification.

In this context, a question may naturally arise as to what is wrong with this method of teaching when the primary task of a university is the creation of knowledge and its transmission to the students. Knowledge transmission to students is being done through teacher-centred learning. As the number of universities in Bangladesh is increasing, students from multi-various economic classes with different social backgrounds are coming to universities to receive higher education and the universities' task is, therefore, to deal with complex levels of expectations and different levels of satisfaction. On the other hand, universities are offering both academic and professional degrees.

A student with an academic degree does not usually use the qualification in the profession, and a student after earning a professional degree searches for a job and decides her/his profession for a lifetime. Higher education provision needs to address the diversity of learners, their expectations, disciplines and intended learning outcomes. This issue requires addressing urgently. Many lecturers though they clearly understand their teaching materials, are not necessarily aware of how the students learn. As our teachers do not get any training on teaching and learning, we do not expect them to have the concepts clear enough to understand, explain and articulate the thought process to their students. Teachers do not expect every student in their class to learn at the same pace and in the same way. For a student to be successful means acceptance of the student for who the person is and not establishing standards that the student will never be able to achieve. However, this does not indicate abandoning educational standards; rather, it is for the sake of being more realistic. Learning takes place through the active behaviour of the student: it is what she/he does that the student learns, not what the teacher does (Ralph W. Tyler 1949).   

A large percentage of our university students are using the ‘surface' approach to learning. Universities are facing the challenge of how to transform them as ‘deep' learners. Learning activities that are too low a level to achieve the intended learning outcomes of a programme are referred to as comprising a surface approach to learning, for example memorising to give the impression of understanding. Activities that are appropriate for achieving the outcomes of a degree programme are referred to as a deep approach. Surface and deep approaches to learning are not personality traits. They are thought of as reactions to the teaching environment. Good teaching supports appropriate learning activities that lead to a deep approach to learning. 

In recent years, many theories have been developed in the fields of learning and teaching. The academic community distinguishes three widely accepted theories of teaching, depending on what is seen as the main determinants of learning: (1) what students are, (2) what teachers do and (3) what students do.  Biggs (1993) has defined them as ‘levels' of thinking. At Level 1, the teacher transmits information, the students' absorb it. If students do not have the ability or motivation to do that correctly, that is their problem and they are blamed for it. Ability is judged as the most important factor in determining students' performance, whereas assessment is the means for sorting the more able students from the less able ones after the teaching is over. Teachers in many public universities in Bangladesh have this Level 1 theory of teaching. The curriculum in Level 1 teaching is nothing but a list of items of content that, once expounded from the podium, has been covered.

Level 2 is a teacher-centred model of teaching. The teacher focuses on what teachers do, but not on what the student is capable of. Like level 1 this model is also based on transmission, but here transmitting concepts and understanding is not just information (Prosser and Trigwell 1999). The teachers’ role is to explain concepts and principles and to present information. For this, teachers need various skills, techniques, and competencies. Teachers at private universities apply the level 2 model. Teachers ought to focus on whether its deployment has the desired effect on the student's learning, and this understanding brings us to the third level of teaching.

Level 3 is the student-centred model of teaching. Unlike level 1 and level 2 this model implies a view of teaching that is not just about facts, concepts, and principles to be covered and understood, but also requires clarification about: (i) what it is the students are to learn and what are their intended learning outcomes, (ii) what it means for students to understand the content after teachers have taught a topic. It is not good enough for teachers to talk about it or teach with an impressive array of visual aids; the only point that matters is, how well the students have learned. Here the teaching and learning activities are specifically attuned to helping students achieve those levels of understanding.

University teachers are well versed in their course materials, but many do not have explicit and well-structured theories relating to teaching their discipline. Teachers must keep themselves up to date with knowledge about teaching, and apply that knowledge reflectively to their own teaching. I hope our universities will pay due attention to this change in the teaching and learning field and take proper measures to build a teaching community well equipped with theories of teaching and learning.


The writer is the Vice-Chancellor, East West University. Email: [email protected]