06 September 2016

Different Types of Learning Tasks and Content Delivery Styles

The following lists a number of learning tasks students may engage in by teacher instruction, and thus they are instruments of teaching a teacher may employ.  Notes regarding each are provided briefly to highlight a range of possible tools teachers may use to engage students in learning.  These are arranged generally speaking from easiest to most difficult to employ effectively.

Every single one of these types of tasks and styles has its rightful place in a course --- there is no magic bullet solution.  Exclusive use of any single style or type of task is not necessarily a good thing as there are always trade-offs to be made.  This list is not meant to be a complete or exhaustive listing of all possible learning tasks or their categorization or description, but a way of thinking about them to help create an effective mixture of learning tasks for any course of learning.

Lectures
- teacher-oriented learning task
- active instrument
- students may remain largely passive for task completion, and can passively wait it out

Theory and verbal/textual explanations are delivered by an instructor to students (focuses on "telling" over "showing").  The delivery is often best done scripted and in an organized manner, almost like a audio/visual version of a printed book delivery of theory or textual explanations.  This term describes a type of teacher-oriented activity.


Like Instructor Tutorial style, but less time for answering questions, and less demonstrations, instead focusing on speaking or writing down theoretical explanations for students (focuses on "telling" over "showing").  Instrument is active, but student can largely remain passive.  Student must actively listen through explanations and actively try (on their own time) to apply it to examples by themselves.

Seminars and (versus) Q&A sessions
- teacher-oriented learning task
- interactive instrument
- students might be more active for task completion, but can likely passively wait it out

Q&A sessions are teacher-driven activities where students volunteer or are picked on to answer questions the teacher poses (questions may be previously posted, or general genres of questions may be previous specified --- if no information is specified before the session, then that is more akin to a group test).

Seminars are often teacher-moderated (or not, if a capable student is given moderator duties) discussions between students on topics or questions posed by the teacher (or a genre of question or topics is posed by the teacher).  Seminars are much more open-ended than Q&A sessions, and require greater cooperation among the students to stay on-topic and contributing to the chosen topic of discussion.

These activities must be done live if done synchronously.  Book or video equivalents can be done if asynchronous communication is allowed (e.g. through emails, message boards, or forums) --- but anything short of live group video conference would not constitute synchronous communication for those activities.  These terms describe types of interactive activity between students and teacher.

Tutorials (or Demos)
An example is given that is very closely relevant or resembles the task or problem the students are expected to be able to do, and the example's solution is worked out step-by-step by the instructor for the students (focuses on "showing" over "telling").  These terms describe a type of teacher-oriented activity.

More specific styles of tutorials are listed below.

Tutorials: Book vs. video vs. live
"Book" means any written textual form. "Video" means any audio/visual un-written, but previously recorded, form.  "Live" is like video but not previously recorded, and the instructor can be interacted with by the students.  These terms describe a type of teacher-oriented activity.

More specific details of each style of tutorials are listed below.

- Book Style Tutorial:
- teacher-oriented learning task 
- passive instrument
- students must remain active to task completion

Some step by step instructions, but mainly focusing on showing examples and theoretical explanations of what's going on explained via text.  Questions may be interspersed. Learning comes mainly from understanding the explanations, and also mainly from trying out the examples (either in ones head, as in math, or on the computer, as in programming, etc.).  Instrument is passive; student must actively read through the paragraphs for understanding and try through examples for understanding.

- Video Style Tutorial:
- teacher-oriented learning task 
- active instrument
- students are more likely to be active for task completion, but can passively wait it out

Similar to Book Tutorial style, but instrument is active (not interactive though).  But student can passively wait through the task; in fact, they must themselves actively listen through the paragraphs spoken for understanding, and try through the examples demo'ed, for this style to be effective.

- Live (Instructor-led Demo) Style Tutorial:
- teacher-oriented learning task 
- interactive instrument
- students more likely to be active for task completion, but can passively wait it out

Like book or video tutorial style, but instructor can answer questions and actively motivate certain students, since instrument is interactive.  Also, examples that are very closely relevant to what students are expected to be able to do are demonstrated live (focus is on "showing" over "telling").  Student still must actively listen through the paragraphs spoken for understanding, and work through the reasoning of the demo'ed examples, to be effective. But student can passively wait through the task and be ineffective at learning.

Lab / Recipe / Paint-by-numbers activities
- student-oriented learning task 
- passive instrument
- students must remain active to task completion
Step-by-step (even scripted) instructions; may have some explanations of what's going on. Questions may be interspersed. Learning comes from noticing changes that occur due to performing the instructions.  Instrument is itself passive, and student must actively step through the instructions and make note of the effect their actions have.

Step-by-step instructions that leads students through what needs to be done to produce a finished product.  There may be some explanations offered in between the instructions, but that is not the emphasis.  Generalization ability due to learning comes largely from noticing changes that occur due to performing the steps of the instructions, and extrapolating out how that might work in novel situations.  These terms describe a student-oriented activity where students are active creators of a finished product.

Problem solving style of activities
- student-oriented learning task 
- passive instrument
- students must remain active to task completion
Step-by-step instructions are not provided, but a final completed solution specification is provided.  Students are expected to figure out on their own how to create a solution to the problem based on their experience and learning from other activities, AND the instructor provides a tutorial that demonstrates a worked out solution to an example that very closely resembles the problem's specified solution.

Problems are different from projects primarily based on the lower specificity of the project activity requirements (what actions are allowed or disallowed) and finished product specifications (characteristics of acceptable deliverables) versus the specificity of a problem's solution method and completed solution specification (what constitutes a solution).  This term describes a student-oriented activity where students are active creators of a completed solution.

Project style of activities
- student-oriented learning task 
- passive instrument
- students must remain active to task completion
Step-by-step instructions are not provided, but a final finished product specification is provided.  Students are expected to figure out on their own how to create the finished product based on their experience and learning from other activities, BUT no other learning activity provides a tutorial that demonstrates a worked out solution to an example that very closely resembles the project's specified finished product OR there are many possible finished products allowed by the specifications and the product demonstrated through the tutorial is disallowed from being submitted as a student's work.

How open-ended the project is depends on the specificity of the project activity requirements (what actions are allowed or disallowed) and finished product specifications (characteristics of acceptable deliverables).  This term describes a student-oriented activity where students are active creators of a finished product.

Afterword
The above was written a long time ago, maybe in 2011(?), and has finally been lightly edited to be shared.

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