Innovative Pedagogies for 2015

January 28, 2015

By Wayne Nelson

Is your teaching working the way you want it to?

The landscape of higher education currently features many changes in how and where learning happens. This is occurring for various reasons, including budget pressures as well as student preparation, preferences and goals. Advances in learning technologies also afford new approaches such as hybrid courses (partly online, partly traditional classrooms), social networking tools that support communities of practice, collaborative knowledge-building activities, and open educational resources as sources of content (Contact North, 2015a)

Are your students learning adequately using the methods you employ?

A crucial distinction in many of the new approaches to teaching is that they move students “from ‘learning about’ something to ‘learning to be something’” (Brown, 2006, p. 19). Pedagogical trends in higher education are responding to changes in student preferences and abilities (Schwartz, 2014). Our students come from K-12 schools where teaching methods often feature increased learner control, choice, and independence that have led to a world where anywhere, anytime, any-size learning opportunities are available. Many of these opportunities are self-directed and non-formal. If you’re like many college professors, you didn’t learn how to teach; instead you learned the intricacies of your subject matter. As a result, you may teach the way you were taught. If so, are your students learning about your subject through lecture and tests, or are they learning to be practitioners of your subject by experiencing real-world situations?

On what assumptions are new pedagogies based?

The new pedagogies discussed below are based in principles of learning that differ greatly from what was known about learning twenty years ago (Dumont, Istance & Benavides, 2010). To be an effective teacher, you must keep in mind that one instructional method will not satisfy all learners’ needs. Learners, rather than the professor, need be at the center of the learning process, controlling when and how learning occurs. Learning is a social enterprise and needs to connect across disciplines rather than being isolated in “course silos”. Emotions play a major role, and affect motivation to learn (e.g., psychologists talk about “flow” in highly engaging activities). Assessment needs to be integral to the unfolding learning process rather than a culminating measure of what might have been learned at the end of a course.

What are some of the newer pedagogical trends?

Based on these principles, several trends in the in higher education pedagogy have been noted recently (Contact North, 2015b; ).

  1. Open learning, featuring flexibility and variety in information sources that are accessed outside of the classroom, rather than using lecture to provide information.
  2. Power sharing, where the role of the professor changes to provide support and negotiate learning tasks and assessments in order to create learner autonomy. This emphasizes student collaboration in support of each other using various communication tools, peer assessments, and discussion opportunities.
  3. Increased use of technology, not just for providing information, but to support students in anywhere/anytime learning opportunities.
  4. Invisible, integrated assessments that are used to gauge the structure of subsequent learning activities. Assessments need to be meaningful, provide feedback to students on their progress, and provide feedback to professors for modification of course plans.

Here are a few specific pedagogies that might work in your courses:

Flipped Classroom – assign students to read or watch a video to gather information outside of class, then use classroom time to work out problems and misconceptions. Students learn more effectively than if they sit and listen to you talk during class and go home to work out the problems and misconceptions by themselves.


Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning - groups of students respond to a challenge presented by the instructor. There are slight differences between the two approaches, but the key is that students are responsible for doing their own research and solving problems for themselves, with minimum guidance.


Peer Instruction – teaching someone else what you have learned is an excellent way to prove you’ve learned something. Peer instruction, as developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard can replace lectures as an effective method for student learning (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).


Competency-Based Learning – express your curriculum as a set of required skills that students are expected to demonstrate by performing specified tasks. Students usually work alone, starting with a specific objective in mind, and choose the order in which they tackle each competency.


Personalized Learning/Adaptive Curriculum - new technologies are available that can adjust what the student is being asked to study according to their learning style and performance on assessments. Rather than the same course and materials for all students, adaptive approaches can present different material for different students.


Differentiated Teaching – students are offered different learning paths for acquiring information, making sense of ideas, and choosing assessments. The choices provided are based on student preferences and current abilities.

Learning communities – allow students to participate in peer networks of learners at institutional, local, regional, and even global levels. Students are thereby supported by peers through the exchange of ideas, review of assignments, and discussion of project ideas.

Mobile Mentoring – students connect to instructors from anywhere and at anytime using mobile devices. Anywhere goes for instructors as well as students.


Increased Access To Ideas and Information – students access digital textbooks, open-source educational resources and other online learning objects, not just the textbook you require for your course.

These are just a few of the possibilities for implementing new teaching approaches in your courses. Take the time to learn more, and take the risk to change your methods in order to become a more effective teacher of today’s students.


Brown, J. S. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change: The Magazine for Higher Learning, 38(5), 18–24.

Contact North (2015a). A new pedagogy is emerging... and online learning is a key contributing factor [Web log post]. Retrieved from trends-directions/evolving-pedagogy-0/new-pedagogy-emerging and-online-learning-key-contributing.

Contact North. (2015b). Five ways online learning is enabling change in post-secondary education [Web log post]. Retrieved from trends-directions/evolving-pedagogy/5-ways-online-learning-enabling-change-post-secondary-education.

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics. 69 (9), 970-977.

Dumont, H., Istance, D., & Benavides, F. (Eds.). (2010). The nature of learning: Using research to inspire practice. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  Publications.

Schwartz, K. (2014). Hands-on and student-centered: Subverting the typical college experience [Web log post]. Retrieved from 2014/07/hands-on-and-student-centered-subverting-the-typical-college-experience/.

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