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Module 4: Approaches to Learning

Module 4: Approaches to Learning

Unique Learning


Record your reflections on a learning experience that was easy, natural, and fun.


  • What were you learning?

  • How were you learning it?

  • What stands out about that experience? 


Then answer the questions: 

  • Do you think all information could be effectively learned in that way?

  • Would everyone enjoy that approach to learning?


Most likely, that would not work for all information or for every learner. This is because we are all unique individuals with different strengths, interests, goals, and experiences. While some activities or approaches to material will work with most tutees, it is important to remember that there are no perfect “cookie cutters” or exact formulas for success in tutoring. It is important as a tutor that you are aware of the ways of thinking and understanding concepts that work best for your tutee.


One way of finding approaches that work best for your tutee is by connecting the material to their strengths and interests. You can identify a tutee’s strengths and interests through the general rapport building and goal setting process. For example, you can ask them how they study for a course in which they feel confident or have interest in. This will clue you in to their academic strengths, strategy strengths, and interests.


It is also important to recognize when an approach or activity you are currently doing is not working for your tutee. This might be evident in their progress through a problem, their body language, or verbalized frustrations. How can you reframe the problem or change the learning approach? Is there a new chart, pattern, example, or other element you can introduce to help with the process? Not only can this help the tutee make more progress in their learning, but it can also serve as a role model for utilizing multiple approaches and strategies to learning. 

Active vs Passive Learning


As we continue talking about approaches to learning, let’s look at the differences between passive and active learning. Passive learning occurs when the student receives the information, stores it as it was received, and repeats the information in papers or on exams the way it was provided.  This is seen in many traditional lecture-style classes. The instructor lectures while the student takes notes. To study, the student rereads the textbook and copies the notes. The student then reproduces the content material in the way it was given to them by the instructor and textbook with little variation or deeper understanding.


Active learning occurs when the student is engaged in activities “that require them to take greater responsibility for the knowledge they gain,” (D. Whittaker, as cited in Flora, 2013). Active learning can include many different approaches and activities, but common characteristics often include reflection, application, and personalization. Even if a class is set up as a traditional lecture, a student can approach the coursework as an active learner. For example, the student writes down ideas of examples of the material and questions during a lecture. Outside of class, the student looks for real-life examples of the material or metaphors. They add to the material from the class and textbook by considering outside materials and linking concepts to other information they already know.  To study, the student may organize the information, evaluate it from multiple angles, and practice teaching it to others. The student is able to discuss and answer questions on the content from an understanding deeper than just what was provided by lecture or text.


When you are tutoring, you want the student to take responsibility for their own learning and be actively engaged in how they think about the material. It is easy to want to answer a tutee’s question or solve the problem for them, but as previously discussed, it is important to remember that the person solving the problem or explaining the concept is learning more than the listener. To help the tutee personalize the information, see if they can make connections or metaphors that relate the material to their favorite sport, strongest subject, or other interest. When giving problems or examples, see if you can relate it back to the tutee's interests or strengths.


If getting your tutoring sessions to include active learning is the goal, what types of learning and review activities could you incorporate?


Click on Fig 1.5 for some examples, activities, and tips to get you started.


Keep in mind that these activities might not work for everyone or for every subject. This list isn’t exhaustive, but just a starting place. What ideas do you have for the material you tutor on? 

Deep Learning


In addition to being active, tutoring sessions should approach learning in a way that encourages the tutee to get beyond surface level learning. The cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Revised (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) is a great framework for planning and evaluating the levels of cognition and learning in your tutoring session.



Bloom’s taxonomy was originally created in 1956 by a group of college educators interested in exams and educational objectives. The taxonomy laid out a six category hierarchy that featured skills and abilities building upon the foundation of knowledge.  In 2001, a group led by Anderson and Krathwohl (including Bloom) established a revised taxonomy. The revision kept the six categories but shifted the focus to action (as their titles were changed from nouns to verbs) and recognized learners can still process and learn at a higher level even if they haven’t completely mastered levels below it. With that in mind, let’s look at the revised taxonomy we use today. Click on Fig 1.6.1 - 1.6.4.



Often high school exams require students to be prepared for remembering and understanding levels. However, many exams in college require students to process at higher levels. This might be part of the reason students often say “What worked in high school no longer works!” or “I was able to ace tests in high school without having to study.”  Helping your tutees recognize what level of thinking and learning is expected of them is a great way to prepare effectively and efficiently for exam.


When you are tutoring, try to work with the tutee to identify which level their current study approaches and strategies are aimed at meeting. Next, the tutee and you can identify the level the faculty expects them to meet on the exam or assignment. This gives you an idea of where the tutee is currently and a goal for the level of learning they will need to meet to be successful. You can gradually structure the session and how you approach the material to meet the goal level.


Click on Fig 1.7.1 - 1.7.2


Think back to some of the ideas, tips, and strategies from active learning as well as other activities you’ve done while studying. Consider where these activities might fall in Bloom’s taxonomy.
Here are some key verbs that might help you identify the used or expected level and even plan activities to apply learning at that level. 

Click on Fig 1.8 on the left.


Updating & Editing Your Philosophy


This badge module highlighted different ways you can approach learning in your sessions.  It is important to encourage your tutees to take an active approach to their own learning. You can also encourage your tutee to think about how their learning will be assessed and help them study in a way that will maximize their deep learning. Remembering facts and understanding terms and formulas are great first steps, but the learning shouldn't end there. Your tutoring sessions can role model applying the concepts, evaluating stances or options, and synthesizing new ideas or connections. And don't forget- we are each unique learners so there are no perfect "cookie cutter" ways that will work for each tutee or subject. Have fun and be creative! 


As you wrap up this badge module, think about how you will approach learning with each of your tutees, subjects/courses, and sessions. 


  • With the Approaches to Learning content in mind, are there any additions or changes you could make to your philosophy? 

  • What topics, ideas, or strategies do you agree with? Do you disagree with any?

  • What strategies do you utilize in your sessions? What should tutees expect? Why do you utilize those strategies- what is your goal or why are they important?

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Fig 1.5

Fig 1.6.1

Fig 1.6.2

Fig 1.6.3

Fig 1.6.4

Fig 1.7.1

Fig 1.7.2

Fig 1.8

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