The paradigm shift from teaching to learning

Useful links

'From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education'...

Foundations

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University...

Key terms

Teaching (or instruction) paradigm: Approach which maintains that the...

As already mentioned, an ongoing and fundamental transition in pedagogical approaches to post-secondary education is occurring – the transition from teaching (or 'instruction') to learning paradigms. Robert Barr and John Tagg (1995) discussed this changing paradigm as it relates to higher education. They pointed out that higher education had long mistaken means for ends, arguing that the purpose of universities was not to provide instruction (a purpose implicit in traditional higher education structure and culture), but rather to produce learning.

For obvious reasons, Barr and Tagg suggested that this change should be called the learning paradigm. They reasoned that the learner is crucial, implying the need to better understand our students: 'The Learning Paradigm frames learning holistically, recognizing that the chief agent in the process is the learner' (p11).

Biggs and Tang (2007), drawing on their work in Hong Kong universities, describe similar paradigms as beliefs held by teachers at different stages in their careers. One might be thought of as the teaching paradigm, where the teacher's responsibility is knowing the content well and expounding it clearly. In the learning paradigm, it is the teacher's responsibility to design and encourage students to use the learning activities most likely to achieve the outcomes intended.

Moving your courses online or developing new ones can provide an opportunity to adopt the learning paradigm, or at least move closer to it.

The following activity will explore the differences between the two paradigms – teaching and learning – in more depth. Use the 'Next' button to move through the activity screens.

Let's explore the differences between the teaching and learning paradigms in more depth. What follows is a series of tables. Each one draws out the teaching and learning paradigms related to a particular element of higher education, such as 'learning theory' and 'staff roles'). Each table also has a paragraph of explanatory text.

Mission and purposes


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Provide/deliver instruction Produce learning
Transfer knowledge from teachers to students Elicit students' discovery and construction of knowledge
Offer courses and programmes Create powerful learning environments
Improve the quality of instruction Improve the quality of learning
Achieve access for diverse students Achieve success for diverse students

In the teaching paradigm, according to Barr and Tagg, the mission of the higher education institution is to provide instruction, to teach. The method and the product are one and the same. The means is the end. In the learning paradigm, the mission of the higher education institution is to produce learning. The method and the product are separate. The end governs the means. Whilst the teaching paradigm focuses on the transfer of knowledge from teachers to students, in the learning paradigm teachers elicit students' discovery and construction of knowledge. Institutions upholding the teaching paradigm offer courses and programmes, and seek to improve the quality of instruction and provide access for diverse students. Institutions upholding the learning paradigm strive to create powerful learning environments which improve the quality of learning and support the success of diverse students.


Criteria for success


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Quality of entering students Learning and student-success outcomes
Curriculum development, expansion Learning technologies development
Quantity and quality of resources Quantity and quality of outcomes
Enrolment, revenue growth Aggregate learning growth, efficiency
Quality of teachers, teaching Quality of students, learning

Barr and Tagg argue that under the teaching paradigm, we judge our educational institutions by comparing them to one another. The criteria for quality are defined in terms of inputs and process measures. Factors such as selectivity in student admissions, number of PhDs employed as teaching staff, and research reputation are used to rate higher education institutions. In the teaching paradigm, teaching is judged on its own terms; in the learning paradigm, the power of an environment or approach is judged in terms of its impact on learning. If learning occurs, then the environment has power.


Teaching/Learning structures


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Atomistic: parts to whole Holistic: whole prior to parts
Time held constant, learning varies Learning held constant, time varies
Independent disciplines, departments Cross disciplines, departments
Private, end-of-course assessment Public, embedded assessments
Degree = accumulated credit hours Degree = demonstrated knowledge and skills
Marking within classes by teachers External evaluations of learning

Structures are those features of an institution that provide the framework within which educational activities occur and which are stable over time. According to Barr and Tagg, the teaching and learning structure of the teaching paradigm is atomistic and rigid. Teachers and classes are organised by disciplines and departments. Time spent in classrooms is the measure of achievement. The teaching and learning structure in the learning paradigm is holistic and flexible. Teachers and classes are organised across disciplines. Learning is the measure of achievement.


Learning theory


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Knowledge exists 'out there' Knowledge exists in people's minds
Knowledge is delivered from teachers to students Knowledge is constructed by students
Learning is teacher-centred and controlled Learning is student-centred and controlled
Learning environments are competitive and individualistic Learning environments are cooperative, collaborative and supportive
Learning is cumulative and linear Learning is multi-dimensional and interactive
Talent and ability are rare Talent and ability are abundant

In terms of learning theory, Barr and Tagg assert that the teaching paradigm is objectivist in nature, the learning paradigm is constructivist. The teaching paradigm sees learning as cumulative and linear. It supports teacher-centred learning environments that are competitive and individualistic. The learning paradigm sees learning as multi-dimensional and interactive. It supports learner-centred learning environments that are collaborative and supportive.


Productivity/funding


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Productivity = cost/hour of instruction/students Productivity = cost/unit of learning/student
Funding for hours of instruction Funding for learning outcomes

The teaching paradigm, according to Barr and Tagg, has a serious design flaw – its structures are such that they cannot increase their productivity without diminishing the quality of their product. Productivity is defined as cost per hour of instruction per student. In this view, the quality of teaching and learning is threatened by any increase in the student-teacher ratio. The learning paradigm redefines productivity as the cost per unit of learning per student. Under this new definition, the authors maintain, it is possible to increase outcomes without increasing costs.


Academic staff roles


Teaching paradigm Learning paradigm
Academic staff are primarily lecturers Academic staff are primarily designers of learning methods
Teachers classify and sort students Teachers develop every student's competencies and talents
Staff serve/support the department and the process of teaching and learning Staff are educators who contribute to student learning and success
Any expert can teach Empowering learning is challenging and complex
Line governance, independent actors Shared governance, teams of actors

Barr and Tagg also assert that a move from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm changes academic staff roles. In the teaching paradigm, academic staff are primarily lecturers, any expert can teach, and teachers sort and classify students. In the learning paradigm, teachers are designers of learning, teaching is challenging and complex, and the teacher's role is to develop every student's competencies. The teaching paradigm, moreover, views staff as supporting instruction whereas the learning paradigm views them as educators who also contribute to students' success.

Source: Copyright (1995) From 'From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education' in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning by Robert B. Barr & John Tagg.
Reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Group LLC (www.tandfonline.com).

Barr and Tagg's analysis makes a clear distinction between the two paradigms for higher education. What do you make of this analysis? Your thoughts will shape how you design materials for online environments. But first, use the following activity to confirm your understanding of the distinctions.

Barr and Tagg's analysis makes a clear distinction between the two paradigms for higher education. What do you make of this analysis? Your thoughts will shape how you design materials for online environments. But first, work through the following activity to confirm your understanding of the distinctions.

In the following activity, you will be presented with a number of qualities drawn from either the teaching or the learning paradigm. In each case, click the quality at the top and then click the paradigm to which it belongs, then click the 'View feedback' button to see our thoughts.
Consider the following four sets of qualities. Each contains two statements; in each case reflect on which statement is drawn from the teaching paradigm and which is drawn from the learning paradigm, then continue on to find the qualities arranged under the appropriate headings, along with some helpful feedback.

Quality 1 of 4:

Statement 1

The mission and purposes are to deliver instruction, transferring knowledge from the academic staff to the students. The goals are to offer courses and programmes, improve the quality of instruction, and achieve access for diverse students.

Statement 2

The mission and purposes are to produce learning by supporting students' construction of knowledge. The goals are to create powerful learning environments, improve the quality of learning, and achieve success for diverse students.


Quality 2 of 4:

Statement 1

Criteria for success include the quality of existing students, achievement of learning and student success outcomes.

Statement 2

Criteria for success include the quality and quantity of resources, academic staff, new students and enrolments and revenue growth.


Quality 3 of 4:

Statement 1

The teaching and learning structures are holistic. Learning outcomes are held constant and time is varied. Learning is student-centred and active, collaborative, and supportive. Degree equals demonstrated knowledge and skills.

Statement 2

The teaching and learning structures are atomistic. Time is held constant and learning varies. Learning is dictated in terms of covering the material and assessed at the end of the semester or course. Degree equals specific number of credit hours earned.


Quality 4 of 4:

Statement 1

Paradigm is grounded in constructivist learning theory which views knowledge as created and learning as a nesting and interacting of frameworks.

Statement 2

Paradigm is grounded in objectivist learning theory which views knowledge as acquired and learning as cumulative and linear.


The qualities correctly arranged

Teaching paradigm

The mission and purposes are to deliver instruction, transferring knowledge from the academic staff to the students. The goals are to offer courses and programmes, improve the quality of instruction, and achieve access for diverse students.

Criteria for success include the quality and quantity of resources, academic staff, new students and enrolments and revenue growth.

The teaching and learning structures are atomistic. Time is held constant and learning varies. Learning is dictated in terms of covering the material and assessed at the end of the semester or course. Degree equals specific number of credit hours earned.

Paradigm is grounded in objectivist learning theory which views knowledge as acquired and learning as cumulative and linear.


Learning paradigm

The mission and purposes are to produce learning by supporting students' construction of knowledge. The goals are to create powerful learning environments, improve the quality of learning, and achieve success for diverse students.

Criteria for success include the quality of existing students, achievement of learning and student success outcomes.

The teaching and learning structures are holistic. Learning outcomes are held constant and time is varied. Learning is student-centred and active, collaborative, and supportive. Degree equals demonstrated knowledge and skills.

Paradigm is grounded in constructivist learning theory which views knowledge as created and learning as a nesting and interacting of frameworks.


Feedback

Barr and Tagg clearly differentiated between the teaching and learning paradigms. The learning paradigm is grounded in constructivist theory, focused on learning and the design of the learning environment, success for all, and outcomes-based assessment.

Portfolio activity

What are your reflections on Barr and Tagg's analysis? Use the attached...

Do you agree with Barr and Tagg's analysis? Where does your current approach to learning reside? Are you more in the teaching paradigm or the learning paradigm? What about your institution? If you wanted to become more grounded in learning do you think it would be possible? Do you think putting courses online provides an opportunity to transition to the learning paradigm?

In the screens that follow, we will explore ways of transitioning online courses into the learning paradigm.

In the sections that follow, we will explore ways of transitioning online courses into the learning paradigm.


Useful links

Foundations

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Key terms

Teaching (or instruction) paradigm: Approach which maintains that the mission of a university is to deliver teaching primarily conceived as the activity of providing lectures.

Learning paradigm: Approach which maintains that the mission of a university is to support the learning of every student by whatever means works best.

Portfolio

Duration: 15 minutes

What are your reflections on Barr and Tagg's analysis?

Use the attached document to record your thoughts, or complete the relevant page of your Teaching Online portfolio.