Modern modes of teaching and learning

Teaching strategies

Modern modes of teaching and learning: Learn the lingo

  • Technology learning
  • Online learning
  • Work-based learning
  • Blended learning
  • Contextual learning
  • Immersion learning
  • Incidental learning
  • Cross-curriculum learning

Technology learning

Technology learning – any learning activity that utilises one or more forms of modern technology such as a digital whiteboard.

Group of 5 studetns engaging with technology in the learning process.

Technology learning is an overarching term that refers to the use of technologies in the learning process. Technology is not a strategy in itself – it is merely a tool – an effective and useful tool however, especially when combined with strategies such as modelling, mastery learning, online learning, play-based learning, simulations and questioning.

There are many advantages of using technology in the classroom such as:

  • lessons and activities are more interesting, interactive and enjoyable for students
  • experts from around the globe can be accessed at little cost and effort
  • the volume of content and resources available online is seemingly endless
  • technology is essential for many people with a disability or a disorder
  • technology can be used to support students in remote areas
  • exposure to technology in the classroom helps to prepare students for a technology-rich future
  • technology can save time. For example, webinars can be recorded and used repeatedly (or added to a resource library).

Hint: think for a moment about the definition of technology. Shoes and shoelaces were once considered innovative and they are examples of human ingenuity. Buildings (particularly rooms designed and constructed specifically for the purpose of education) are relatively recent technologies. What we define as ‘technology’ changes over time.

There are also potential disadvantages or challenges that come with using technologies such as:

  • an over-reliance on technology can mean fewer social interactions
  • there is a potential for less physical activity (and the associated health consequences)
  • the online space has a never-ending number of distractions and potential dangers
  • technology does not always work when it should
  • it may not be any more effective than more traditional ‘chalk and talk’ in some instances
  • technology can be expensive, and it requires servicing and maintenance.

Hint: a growing number of schools and teachers have been consciously returning to more traditional teaching strategies such as explicit instruction. Why do you think this is happening?

Online learning

Online learning – a mode of learning where students access learning materials and assessments via the internet.

Online learning is a form of technology-based learning that is rapidly growing in popularity. Teachers can use online learning as part of a lesson, or it can be used for the delivery of entire courses via a learning management system (LMS). Online learning is the most popular method of learning for self-directed learners because of the ease of obtaining cheap, accessible and high-quality information from online sources around the globe. A notable development in online learning has been the rapid increase of students who are using mobile devices to access course content and resources while studying an accredited course.i Teachers can use online learning to allow students to access materials in their own time, including recorded webinars and lectures. A basic online course has a number of lessons each with a video lecture, reading resources, external links, practise activities or a game, and some form of assessment.

Online learning can take many forms including:

  • an LMS such as Moodle for longer courses
  • online short courses (1-100 hours) on specific topics
  • educational games and activities
  • resources such as databases
  • simulations (such as flight simulators)
  • general web-based resources such as blogs
  • podcasts and videos (such as YouTube)
  • e-books, journal articles, reports and other documents that are accessible online.

Work-based learning

Work-based learning – learning that occurs in the workplace often under the mentorship of a more experienced person.

Work-based learning occurs when a person consciously engages in learning activities by participating in a work-related activity such as mentoring, shadowing, observing, participating in a meeting, attending a conference or watching a webinar. Organisations want their employees to become as effective and as efficient as possible, and training is one way that this can be achieved. Staff are provided with mentors, undertake courses, watch videos and read training materials. Improving the skills and knowledge of employees has been shown to improve staff retention, morale and efficiency.ii High school students regularly undertake work-based learning relevant to their interests to test whether they have chosen a suitable career path. Work-based learning is also commonly used as part of accredited courses including education, medical, legal, agriculture and engineering programs to name just a few.

Improving the skills and knowledge of employees has been shown to improve staff retention, morale and efficiency.

Blended learning

Blended learning – a way of structuring a course by utilising multiple modes of delivery such as online, face-to-face, self-study and workplace learning. Most often associated with vocational training.

Well-known by instructional designers and course developers, blended learning combines the best aspects of class-based learning, self-study, workplace learning and online learning. This strategy is ideal for busy adults with family or other commitments who need flexible study arrangements that fit with their demanding schedules. Students attend classes for the benefit of face-to-face time with their teacher and to meet other students. Self-study is used to practise, research and read in preparation for class. Students access course materials, activities and lectures via an LMS. The workplace learning component provides students with an opportunity to practise and apply their new skills and knowledge in a real-world environment. Students work under the guidance of a mentor and are assessed against set performance criteria at some point. The workplace experience helps to consolidate learning and to ensure that students graduate with industry-ready skills.

This strategy is ideal for busy adults with family or other commitments who need flexible study arrangements that fit with their demanding schedules.

Diagram of the different methors of learning.

Blended learning combines multiple ways of learning.

Contextual learning

Contextual learning – learning with goals that are based on a student’s lived experience and practical needs (such as studying agriculture in farming communities).

Contextual learning is a broad strategy that involves using resources, content, problems, issues and concepts that are relevant to students’ lives and interests. It involves bringing the outside world into the classroom (or vice-versa) to make learning more relevant. Contextual learning topics, resources and content are authentic, current, interesting and useful. Students are more motivated to learn because they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and how it can be applied beyond the classroom. Contextual learning equips students with the skills and knowledge that the outside world demands of them.

Students are more motivated to learn because they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and how it can be applied beyond the classroom.

Teachers can implement contextual learning in 1 of 3 ways: in the workplace, at school, or a combination of both. For example, students from a farming community can learn about land management such as farming practices, technologies, weather patterns and soil. Students can improve their core academic skills, such as reading and writing, within the context of farming. All topics (such as maths, science and language learning) can relate to farming in some way. Ideally a combination of contextual learning, explicit instruction, excursions and workplace learning should be organised to round out a highly valuable learning program.

Immersion learning

Immersion learning – when a student is surrounded by stimuli relevant to their learning goals (such as living in a foreign country to learn a language).

When you are in a swimming pool, you are ‘immersed’ in water – immersion means to be surrounded by something. When someone is immersed in a book, they are reading with such interest that all their attention is focused on the book – nothing else. Immersion learning occurs when a person is surrounded by the subject matter that they are trying to learn. Immersion is often associated with second-language learning: foreign language classes are decorated with images, items and words from the relevant country. Only the foreign language can be used in the room. Another version of immersion learning is living and studying abroad for a period of time. The idea is that fluency is more likely to be achieved by experiencing a high volume of frequent, repetitive and authentic language experiences.

Immersion learning occurs when a person is surrounded by the subject matter that they are trying to learn.

There are 3 basic mechanisms that make an immersion learning strategy effective:

  • volume – immersion provides a larger number of opportunities
  • incidents – knowledge is gained ‘accidentally’ simply by being immersed
  • authenticity – knowledge is acquired and applied in the real world.

Compare a classroom where students study a language for 600 hours per year to a person who lives and studies a language in a foreign country: listening, speaking, reading and practising the language 24/7. Immersion students can learn language from a range of sources, such as street signs, menus, advertising and from overhearing conversations. One of the quickest ways to learn a language is to combine explicit learning with reading texts (such as newspapers) and watching TV (such as children’s cartoons).

Immersive learning, a person being surrounded by relevant content.

Immersion learning is effective because the learner is constantly surrounded by opportunities to learn.

Incidental learning

Incidental learning – an unplanned, fleeting yet potentially useful learning opportunity usually not relevant to the lesson or topic.

Many of the strategies in this book require careful planning and execution – that’s not the case with this strategy. Incidental learning is completely free, simple and quick, it applies to all ages and topics, and it requires absolutely zero planning. In fact, if you plan for incidental learning, then it is no longer incidental learning!

Incidental learning involves identifying and capitalising on a ‘teachable moment’.

Incidental learning involves identifying and capitalising on a ‘teachable moment’. In other words, something happens that makes the teacher think of something unrelated that would be useful for students to know. Because the information is useful in some way, the teacher decides to tell their students about it. However, as this information is not relevant to the topic, care must be taken to not ramble or dwell on it for too long. Incidental learning is a great way to teach life skills, metacognitive skills and coping strategies, as well as to build students’ general knowledge.

Hint: incidental learning occurs when the opportunity presents itself – you could also think of incidental learning as ‘opportunistic learning’. There is no set number of times that incidental learning should be implemented in any given period of time – once every week or so would seem reasonable.

Cross-curriculum learning

Cross-curriculum learning – linking school subjects with an overarching theme or secondary focus such as sustainability or cultural knowledge.

Image of a classroom with 9 students and a teacher sitting in a semi-circle.

Traditionally, subjects are studied independently of each other. Maths is delivered by the maths teacher; English by the English teacher; science by the science teacher, and so forth. There is little relationship between each subject. In a high-school setting, a teacher from one subject will generally have no interest or knowledge in what students learn in another subject. Cross-curriculum learning however, links these traditional subjects with an overarching theme. Cross-curriculum learning refers to either:

  • a strategy where several teachers of different subjects cooperate to implement a program that links each subject in some way, or
  • a secondary set of teachings that permeate all subjects – sometimes also referred to as ‘curriculum priorities’.

Hint: the ‘hidden curriculum’ is a set of ideas, expectations, values and norms that students learn, and teachers teach unintentionally (at least ‘somewhat’ unintentionally). For example, by allowing boys more floor time (something which teachers have been shown to do), traditional gender expectations are reinforced; girls and boys ‘learn’ that there are slightly different expectations for each gender. Teachers often elucidate these types of teachings unintentionally. The so-called hidden curriculum grows from the teachers, the schools, and society’s beliefs, values, expectations, culture and current norms (which change over time). Schools are a microcosm of societal expectations, beliefs and values, and school participants enforce these expectations vigorously.iii

As with all strategies, there are several ways that a cross-curriculum approach can be delivered such as:

  • by the same teacher with 2 or more subjects
  • by 2 teachers with 2 different subjects
  • by 3 teachers with 3 or more subjects
  • by using a ‘whole-of-school’ approach (usually this refers to a year group).

Hint: if you are new to this strategy, try integrating 2 subjects to begin with – do not attempt a school-wide approach on your first attempt.

Multiple subjects around a single topic.

A shared topic links learning in multiple subjects.

Many primary school teachers already use a cross-curriculum approach with units of work. A unit of work is a program of about 4-5 weeks that integrates all core subjects around a single overarching topic such as farming or zoo animals. Middle school teachers can also implement cross-curriculum programs across multiple subjects. For example, the topic may be volcanoes and all teachers use that topic to plan subject-relevant lessons. Best practice (and a little more challenging) is for the activities in each subject to link in some way. For example, students might learn about what causes volcanoes in science or geography and then write a blog or newspaper article about what causes eruptions in English class.

Foot notes:

  1. At my training college (ITAC, with 2000+ adults per year, a mean age of 37 and 99% female), our online learning platform was accessed with more mobile phones than desktops by around early 2019. Students now expect to enrol, pay, study, complete assessments and graduate all without touching a desktop (including those who enrol in ‘online’ courses). New terms such as M-learning are starting to emerge as a result.
  2. Grensing-Pophal, L. (2019). The Critical Link between Effective Training and Retention. Brentwood: Newstex.
  3. Goodhand, M. (2014). Teachers' perceptions of heteronormativity in elementary schools: the hidden and evaded curricula of gender diversity. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School. doi: 10.17615/gse6-qg85.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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