Providing instructions and learning are the two sides of a coin. Effective instruction is not a set of standard exercises, but instead is a set of teaching decisions influenced by context. Competent instructors do not employ the same set of instructional methods for every lesson. Instead, they continuously monitor their work, observe productivity in learners, and, then refine their methods accordingly. Instructional methods can be defined as the processes by which information is presented to students by their teachers. They are based on two major categories: instructor-centered approaches and learner- centered approaches. None of the approaches can be declared better than the other. This is because some goals can only be achieved through instructor-centered approaches while others clearly need learner-centered approaches.
Instructional methods include lectures, class discussions, small group discussions, simulation, case studies, or individual projects. The instructional materials on the other hand, are the items designed to serve as major tools for assisting in the instruction of a course or subject. They include textbooks, films, audio recordings, presentation slides et al. Choosing the right instructional methods and materials for a specific lesson depends on a number of things, chief among them, the age and development level of learners and what they already know. Others include the lesson’s objectives, the content, the available time, space, students and material resources, and the environmental setting. This paper will explore three major instructional methods, namely lectures, small group discussions and case studies. It will highlight their approach to learning, strengths and weaknesses in order to determine their effectiveness and overall impact on the learning process.
The lecture is the most common and flexible instructional method that involves a speaker (teacher) and an audience (students) whereby the former exposits general and background knowledge of a particular subject to the former. It is meant to provide a broad overview of a particular topic. In preparing a lecture for the classroom setting, the speaker has to learn about the intended audience, their level of knowledge and motivations for learning a particular course or subject. It should then be crafted accordingly to link the instructional material available to the existing knowledge. The strengths of the lecture include: (a) it is time efficient both in preparation and delivery; (b) the content is well organized and is presented in a clear, direct and coherent fashion; (c) it allows for pulling of experiences and information together especially among a large group in order to understand a subject better. The most prevalent weaknesses of the lecture method are: (a) it puts the audience (students) in a passive role and hence it is difficult to engage them actively; (b) the communication channel is one way (teacher to student) hence difficult to determine the lecture’s progress.
Besides the lecture, the small group discussion is an instructional approach whereby learning is based on active interaction between participants in a group made up of five to ten members. Study sessions can occur anywhere from conference rooms, offices to the library. This instructional method is effective in handling many tasks like the introduction of subject concepts and materials, reviewing of materials and application. Small group discussion allows learners to perfect their knowledge on concepts, to problem solve and apply acquired knowledge in real situations. The strengths of the small group discussion method are: (a) it fosters social interaction between learners and affords each member with a platform to participate comfortably; (b) it facilitates evaluation, analysis and application of concepts which are crucial in developing sound reasoning and critical thinking; (c) it provides an opportunity for learners to offer feedback to one another and track the learning progress of each member in a safe environment. The major drawbacks of the small group discussion method include: (a) the process of learning depends highly on the cooperation and participation of group members whereby lack of cooperation from one member can influence the performance of the group; (b) another common weakness is that of the quite learner and the dominant learner. The quiet student does not participate or does so trivially, while the dominant student controls the entire discussion.
In addition to lecture and small group discussions, the case studies instructional method considers real world problems and the managerial approaches that can be used to solve them. The learners are tasked with analyzing a complex problem (the case) outside of the classroom and designing multiple, reasonable solutions to remedy it. The selection of a particular case study should be comprehensive and associated with the course learning objectives. Due to their nature of occurring outside the classroom, each individual or group is expected to research on a given case and evaluate all the essential data on a case to be presented to the instructor in charge.
The instructor then challenges and probes the reasons and solutions that the learners come up with. The case studies approach promotes critical thinking among learners and is crucial in teaching cultural values and ethics to learners. The strengths of this instructional model include: (a) it helps in developing analytic an problem solving skills among learners; (b) it allows students to apply imparted knowledge and skills to solve complex real life issues. The weaknesses of case studies instructional method are: (a) the model is highly advanced and is only applicable at high levels of education in specific academic fields like law and business; (b) it requires thorough research and careful evaluation on the learner’s part because insufficient information and inappropriate solutions can affect the whole process.
Clearly, there is no superior instructional method and materials that can be adopted by instructors and learners alike because they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Each method is viable for use in the classroom context to help the learner to develop the requisite knowledge and skills that a particular course demand. However, the instructional method selected, should be determined by the learning objectives, the availability of materials and technical resources, the overall course purpose and educational framework, and the instructor’s training.