05Jul 2016

A Curious Case of Classroom Facilitation: Traditional vs Progressive

Traditional vs Progressive Pedagogy...what's the deal?

The long-standing debate between which type of pedagogy - traditional or progressive - is becoming more relevant than ever before. Faculty are taking their stance along the spectrum, somewhere between these extremes based on their beliefs, experiences and classroom environment.


Rather than pit one pedagoligcal preference against the other, let's look at some of the major differences between the two.


traditional classroom


Traditional Classroom Facilitation:                                                                

  • Teacher as the expert                                          
  • Structured and formal systems 
  • Rote memorization and learning 
  • Focus on content
  • Measurable outcomes 
  • Emphasis on textbooks
  • Exams 


Progressive Classroom Facilitation: 

  • "Hands-on learning"
  • Focus on problem solving and critical thinking 
  • Organic systems - experiences 
  • Collaborative learning projects 
  • Highly personalized environment 
  • Intangible outcomes - building life-long skills
  • Learning material frequently changes based on the class, current events, topics

Initially, the two seem very different, on opposite sides of the spectrum. 


What attracts educators toward one or the other? 

Clearly they both have benefits, or one would have completely taken over long ago, while the other fizzled out. Some of the benefits of the traditional method are:

  • With increasingly larger class sizes, it is difficult to take into account each student's learning style, manage group projects, and traditional facilitation discussions where students feel comfortable sharing.
  • Measurable outcomes at the end of each semester/term enable the educator (and administrators) to receive some sort of feedback. 
  • Often learning the content well builds a solid foundation for deeper discussions, applying the knowledge and exploring different viewpoints. 
  • Typically, the teacher in the room is the expert on the subject, with much knowledge and experience to share on top of the class material. 


Benefits of the progressive method

  • Future employers often value skills not directly taught in the classroom, but learned by hands-on activities, acting out what is taught (relationship building. problem solving, communication, etc.) 
  • Faciliating discussions where students are encouraged to voice their differing views empowers students to think independently, develop critial thinking skills and stand for what they believe in. 
  • The educator in the room is not only an educator, but also a role model, challenging the students to think differently and creatively and this can flow into other areas of their lives. 
  • In progressive facilitation, with a more individualized environment, students are able to assess more readily, what works and what doesn't work for them while learning.


progressive classroom


This is an excellent quote from Sean Michael Morris

"When I begin the design of a course, the first question I ask is: what should learners -- participants -- walk away with? By this, I don’t mean learning outcomes or objectives. I don’t mean “When this course is finished, you will…” I don’t refer to what content learners will memorize, or what tests they’ll pass. Rather, I want to know what will linger in the mind when the learner closes her laptop? What part of the course will pry its way into dinner conversation? How will the learner feel changed, challenged, surprised, or proud?"



At first glance it may seem as though you must choose one strategy or the other, and any changes to your current method may cause for long and difficult transitions. However, many have started with small adjustments and found success in this method while avoiding overwhelm in the process.

For example, teaching the content (traditionally) to build the foundation for an informed discussion (progressive). 

Another is using a textbook initially, and then introducing supplmental materials on the topic with differing view points.  

Using formative, low risk assessments throughout the class to assist students in self-assessing how they are absorbing the material, instead of waiting until failing a midterm or final to realize they didn't understand. Read more about Formative Assessments and Real-Time Results in the Creating Engagement in the Classroom ebook!


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Incorporating a group project, collaboration channel, or community outreach into an otherwise traditional class format.

Often times aspects of progressive teaching require additional time upfront and taking a chance at trying something new, but at the end of the day, the best educators are the ones who are continuing to grow and challenge themselves as they expect of their students.   

We'd love to hear your stance on this important topic!