Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > Article Detail


Learning and Teaching Strategies

From personal experience and research comes advice on what works and why

Roald Hoffmann, Saundra Y. McGuire

Enabling Learning and Teaching

We have called the teaching process magical and mystical; so is learning. People have taught and learned for tens of thousands of years; the biological roots of learning are older still. There is no one way to teach or learn, yet we think there are some identifiable underlying psychological principles that enable good learning:

1. Empathy: The teacher must care, and everyone knows it is difficult to do so when there are obstacles such as four classes to teach, inadequate pay, social problems and other distractions. But students have finely tuned emotional antennae that detect care, and a good number respond.
2. Active learning: Any teaching strategy that stimulates participatory activity on the part of the student will make learning so much easier.
3. Judicious interplay of groups and individuals: Learning is a solitary action, yet it can be enhanced by episodes of group activity. Such interplay is often observed in society, for example, in the way kids master any sport (dribbling practice in soccer, a team scrimmage) or learn music through taking part in a marching band. And the group interplay at a meeting of professionals from any discipline demonstrates learning at its best!
4. Empowerment: Students love to feel capable. We have seen countless students get hooked on studying and learning once they saw their abilities growing dramatically, through their own efforts.

We in academia expect students to acquire information, strategies and critical-thinking skills that allow them to learn from our teaching. There should be no less expectation that instructors think critically and seek out specific strategies to improve performance in the classroom or lecture hall.

The suggestions we present here are not prescriptive; we just want to share with you some of the strategies we have improvised and developed over the years to facilitate learning for, rather than to deliver instruction to, the students we have taught. We hope that you will find them to be useful tools in your own teaching and/or learning.


Further Reading

For more information on metacognitive strategies, Saundra McGuire recommends the following online resources:



We are grateful to many people for their thoughtful comments, including Stephanie McGuire, Deena S. Weisberg, Brian Coppola, Robert Root-Bernstein and James Wandersee. A much abbreviated and modified version of this article was published in Science 325:1203–1204. Additional references on the strategies suggested are available from the authors.

©Roald Hoffman and Saundra Y. McGuire


  • Bloom, B. S., ed. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The Classification of Educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman.
  • Bransford, J. D., A. L. Brown and R. R. Cocking, eds. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Fleming, N., and Baume, D. 2006. Learning Styles Again: VARKing up the right tree! Educational Developments 7.4:4–7.
  • Jones, M. G., and L. Brader-Araje. 2002. The impact of constructivism on education: Language, discourse and meaning. American Communication Journal 5:1–10.

comments powered by Disqus


Subscribe to American Scientist