Phase 2 essay plan, variety 1A
<Lisa, Lindy, Fran, Chen Zuo, Alex, Rebecca>

Does teaching make a difference to undergraduate learning?

Make the strongest arguments for and against that you can, and then state what your overall view is.

The majority of undergraduate learning is often self motivated and carried out independently. However there are occasions such as in tutorials or small group work in which a teacher has a role to play and how well this teaching affects undergraduate learning will be considered in this article. There are several theories on approaches to teaching and the following will be considered; Transmission theory, Teacher Centred Learning, Constructivism, Learner Centred Learning and other controversial theories. (Lisa)

Transmission theory

The theory of teacher centered learning (transmission theory) proposes a curriculum in which skills, facts and values are transmitted from the teacher to the learner, in what could be called a one-way passing of knowledge. This type of learning relies heavily on the learner interpreting and understanding the lesson given, and the content and method of transmitting the content I.D decided by the teacher. This approach, which was presented by Huck & Kuhn in 1968 encourages autonomous learning such as we see in many Higher Education establishments today and appears to be a behaviourist approach, focusing on the behaviour rather than the mind of the individual. However, Transmission Theory has been accused of being a model developed by people who have no actual 'hands on' experience of teaching (Swann 1998). Swann argues that Transmission Theory allows all blame for poor student performance to be laid at the door of the teacher, the pupil or both instead of the way the school curriculum is structured. Nevertheless, learning is fundamentally about making and maintaining connections, be they biologically through meanings and concepts, or through behavioural interaction between the environment and the mind, and the teacher plays a pivotal role in this process. While the transmission approach may not be an all encompassing theory of learning, it does appear to add some benefit to the teacher/ learner relationship. (Lindy)

Teacher Centred Learning

There is much evidence to support that teacher centred learning can make a difference in undergraduate learning from looking at the research examing the importance of how the teacher designs and organises the curriculum and learning, i.e. what topics will be covered and how, e.g. chick sexing. Strong evidence also comes from the mastery learning method, which sets out to improve learning by monitoring learners and aiding their progression using a retest method. Bloom (1968) used 1:1 tutoring and an instructional approach where learners were given two formative assessments; the first serving an informative purpose for the instructor to understand the student’s areas of difficulty, and allow them to give further instructions to improve these areas of weakness; and the second to determine the student’s progression. Further evidence for the effectiveness of this learning technique can be found in Kulik et al.’s (1990) meta-analysis; Hake’s (1998) research on the positive effect of interactive engagement and Crouch and Mazur’s (2001) impressive findings on peer instruction. Thus we can see that teaching plays a crucial role in learning in undergraduate education. (Fran)


Constructivism, which is a theory describing the learning process, states that the acquisition of knowledge is developmental and nonobjective as opposed to being able to be transmitted or stumbled upon. This structural aspect of learning was introduced by Piaget and involves the content and makeup of learning. From this viewpoint, learning is an independent process of fitting new and divergent information into existing self-concepts of the world. Apart from the ‘how’ of learning, there is the dynamic aspect that addresses the ‘why’ of learning. Although Piaget did not tackle this dimension, there are many theories of motivation that explain what drives learning. One good theory would be Maslow’s self-actualization, which states that learning is intrinsic and self-directed. (Chen Zuo)

Learner Centred Learning

Allen Tough emphasised the role of deliberate effort and different motivations in learning and wanted to investigate whether effective learning could take place without a teacher. He looked at the learning projects that a sample of adults were involved in over a year, in which more than half of the individual’s motivation for completing the project is to acquire new skills. He found that on average, the adults in his survey did 5 projects a week and that 4 out of 5 of these were done independently, without being organised by a teacher. Chick sexing is also a strong example of learner centred learning. It takes roughly 6-12 weeks of practical training to learn to do this effectively. However when new trainees were given an instruction leaflet which explained how to do to this, they learned significantly more from reading the leaflet than the trainees that had taken part in the 6-12 weeks of training. These examples demonstrate perfectly Piaget and Maslow's theories of learning, which both stress that learning is an individual process, that can thrive unaided. However, there are other theories arguing that the learning process is by no means a one sided one, for example, Laurillard's model of learning.(Alex)

Controversial Theories

Conversational theories claim that both the learner and teacher are active agents in the quest for knowledge. Laurillard’s model supports this position, arguing that learning in higher education depends on the social distribution of knowledge. Furthermore, academic learning is neither passive, nor achieved without active contribution from a teacher. Thus, whilst the teacher is regarded as a key agent in shaping and guiding the learner to their academic goals, the learner must act on these instructions; actively apply this knowledge and providing sufficient feedback with their teacher. Thus, this model effectively demonstrates that both the teacher and learner are equally crucial to undergraduate learning. (Rebecca)

In conclusion it can be seen there are several different approaches to learning. Some consider the teacher as vital to learning, which is in line with findings by Williams et al (2007), and others place less value on teaching support. As stated, the most popular approach is teacher centred learning as this is carried out through most educational establishments. However, this does not mean this is the best one, the emphasis on this approach can be for practical reasons such as dealing with larger class sizes, limited resources and a short space of time to learn a high volume of material. Overall, every individual learns in their own way and it is important to tailor the teaching to their needs without doing the work for them. The model that supports this concept best is from Laurillard. It may be difficult and costly to put into practice yet would have great benefits for the learner. (Lisa)


Lisa - Best: There is a good amount of evidence used to back up the theories particularly in the Teacher Centred and Learner Centred learning sections. Constructivism had good definitions and using a constrast between theories brought in a critical aspect.

Not so great: Some bits lacked a relation of the theory to higher education, however this was mentioned in Transmission and Contraversial learning sections so overall this isn't a big problem. The conclusion could have linked the chick sexing mentioned in both teacher and learner centred learning.


Best- whilst being concise and straight to the point (under 1000 words), this exam-styled answer has plenty of evidence that supports the theoretical models. It clearly demonstrates that teaching in higher education DOES make a difference, although this can not always be achieved eg due to lack of funding. (conclusion was really good at summing up the evidence with relation to real life.

Worst- the essay seemed a bit disjointed in areas, with the paragraphs appearing to be independent of one another eg The evidence and theoretical models. This made our overall argument quite confusing in places, as we came across as just regurgitating the lectures and not introducing abstract judgements. For example, perhaps the models should have been contrasted and compared with one another to emphasise the differences of teaching methods and the apparent benefits. Linda: I know I was to keep it to 100 words but I feel I need to write a bit more and put an argument in there! And i think it could flow a bit better. If we are to write it in the form of an essay I'm not sure we should have the headings throughout? I've added to mine a wee bit (58 words). I hope this is okay.


Best: I thought the introduction was great, easing the reader into the topic and informing them of the various points we would talk about. The conclusion also works well as it weighs up the points nicely as well as adding in new information about practical issues, and giving an overall view – answering the question appropriately. There are some good definitions here and plenty of evidence given with some great examples.

Worst and suggested areas for improvement: Apart form the transmission theory the essay doesn’t explicitly relate back to undergraduate learning specifically. I think we could make this more obvious and relate the sections back to the question, as (in a agreement with Rebecca) the essay does seem a little disjointed, and may flow better if we relate it back to the title, or perhaps weight up the different theories more – contrasting them and comparing them, rather than just stating what each one is? At the end of Leaner Centred Learning could we perhaps tie in that due to the leaflet improving learning teacher’s organisation of the curriculum is important and thus would lead us on to controversial theories better? – Or at least be more explicit about it as it seems implied but explaining this more clearly could help relate it to the question more, and provide a clearer argument of for and against teaching making a difference in undergraduate learning

chen zhuo:

Best: The essay is in-depth and covered the theories taught in class (the contents are well-explained). I would be very glad if I could write this much in the exam conditions. I like the conclusion which stated the stand clearly and presented several arguments.

not-so-good: One could easily tell that the essay is written by several people and then joined together ( there is no or little flow). In addition, i think it would be better if the stand is clearly stated in the introduction so that it gives the reader a better sense about how the later arguments are going to be put forward. As i wrote the constructivism part of the essay which is the theory behind learner centered learning, I came across a book which is about incorporating constructivism into teaching. Thus, this point could be linked to the controversial theories which suggest that both teachers and learners are important for learning to take place. Basically, the essay would be much better if there is a framework linking the points together and answering the question after stating each point.

Lisa Murray:

Best: Clear structure with the main points outlined in the intro. Good that everything introduced is followed up. Good evidence and understanding of each theory.

Worst: As said above some parts don't relate to undergrad learning. Perhaps even just for practice, not necessarily in the main exam, you should specifically answer the question in terms of the theory spoken about at the end of each paragraph.

Jen - Good: Wide range of topic covered, expanded well. Well rounded conclusion.

Not so good: Points aren't always related back to the question, when it asks abouy undergraduate learning.

Iain -

Good Points - Essay has good explanation of theories, and the introduction cleary states what the essay is intending to cover.

Bad Points - Again repeating what was said before the flow of the essay could be improved, but would be anyway if written by one person instead of 5 or 6.


Good - It covers all the main points very well and is well structured, clear and concise. There is also lots of empirical evidence to back up each of the points, which adds to the quality of the essay.

Bad - This was said earlier, but it could've been a much stronger essay if it had flowed better and seemed less disjointed. This could be improved by linking sectiosn together and showing how they might relate to eachother.

Good - wide variety of theories which are well explained, in-depth and can learn from this essay, well structured with clear headings
Bad - although the introduction outlines the different sections these are not linked at all and so it comes across as quite disjointed, no discussion about how the theories are similar/different

katherine - The essay overall seems very comprehensive and has a lot of good references to researches etc. The essay is well structured, with a clear beginning, middle and end - each of which are strong. Sections are fairly equal in size, which is good. Also, although the essay is comprehensive, with a wide range of material covered, it is still accessible and interesting. Specifically, a good example of accessibility would be the section on constructivism. The only weakeness that I could see may be that the essay doesn't read as thought it was written by one person (but that's becuase it wasn't!). Maybe it could have better flow if there were less time constraints etc. Other than that, it was very informative and I liked it a lot smile


(good points) Each sections covers and explains their theory very well.

(improvement points) Maybe could have stated, according to each theory, how important is teaching and it would have been good to have a conclusion, a way of bringing these lines of thought together some how?


Best thing: Comprehensive and covers each area well. Each section is concise but provides a good amount of detail and evidence. Although probably not the best model for the actual essay, the layout makes it very easy to survey each theory.

Worst thing: As has been mentioned, there is a bit of a lack of flow, and it does seem to veer away from the question at times. Also the conclusion and comparisons could have been eloborated on more.

Other comments: As a resource for writing the essay, it works very well. The writer could easily take what they want from the info and make an essay from it. It would probably be too much info (once additional discussion was added) but this is fine since it means there is more than just the minimum info to work from.


I thought this was really interesting and provided a lot of information, but I thought it could flow better. Maybe link topics somehow?


Good - gives lots of information, each bit is backed up by research. Though it's not relevant for writing in an exam, the way the essay is presented here looks good, with clear headings for each section (helpful for revision, when wanting to find a particular area).

Improvements - as has been said already, it doesn't really flow very well, with no links between each section. Also, the conclusion, though giving an answer to the question, doesn't really relate back clearly to each of the sections, and introduces new things.

Angela Thumath:

Best thing: This essay gives great information that is concise and well written on all of the individual theories. This will be a great aid when studying for exams and applying these theories.

Worst thing/ Improvements: In terms of this being an example essay or plan it does not really flow as a whole. It is great as an information aid but the theories do not link well and do not relate back to the question clearly.

Manus Cross

Best points: Great amount of detail and supporting/contrasting evidence provided, covers a lot of points in sufficient detail in order to provide a well rounded answer- which would be feasible to write in an exam (judging by the word count).

Worst points: while the introduction, conclusion and overall structure look good, on closer looks it does come across as a bit muddled, but this is obviously as you all wrote different sections- in an exam this would not be a problem. Some sections do not seem to link back to the question very clearly- particularly the constructivism section. The introduction could potentially involve more detail of the role of the teacher, also as setting the learning tasks, assessments etc.

Other: As an essay plan, this is fantastic, I think the only problems are to do with the fact that it was written by numerous authors, so any problems of flow can be easily attributed to that, but otherwise a very well thought out essay.