Glossary of Pedagogical Terms
In this list you will find definitions for commonly used pedagogical terms. This list and the associated references and resources provide an overview of foundational concepts, teaching strategies, classroom structures, and philosophies. This page is meant as a quick reference and initial guide to these topics that may both answer a question and spark your curiosity to explore more deeply.
Active Learning: A teaching and learning approach that “engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.” (Freeman et.al. 2014)
Asynchronous Instruction: Asynchronous instruction is the idea that students learn similar material at different times and locations. The term is often associated with online learning where students complete readings, assignments, or activities at their own pace and at their own chosen time. This approach is particularly useful when students are spread across different time zones or may have limited access to technology.
Authentic Assessment: Assessments in which student learners demonstrate learning by applying their knowledge to authentic, complex, real-world tasks or simulations. Proponents of authentic assessment argue that these types of knowledge checks “help students rehearse for the complex ambiguities of the ‘game’ of adult and professional life” (Wiggins, 1990, p.1).
Authentic Assessment. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University Bloomington.
Wiggins, G. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. Jossey-Bass, p. 21-42.
Backwards Design: A course design process that starts with instructors identifying student learning goals and then designing course content and assessments to help students achieve these goals. Rather than starting with exams or set textbooks backwards design argues that “one starts with the end—the desired results (goals or standards) and then derives the curriculum from the evidence of learning (performances) called for by the standard and the teaching needed to equip students to perform” (Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J., 1998)
Blended or Hybrid Course: Blended or hybrid courses are “classes in which some percentage of seat time has been reduced and replaced with online content and activities” (Darby & Lang 2019, p.xxix). These courses continue to meet in-person for some percentage of the class time but content, activities, assessments, and other ways for students to engage with content are delivered online. It is important to note that these courses are intentionally designed to utilize both in-person and online class time to achieve effective student learning.
Ko, S. and Rossen, S., (2017) Teaching Online A Practical Guide, Routledge
Bloom’s Taxonomy: Bloom’s Taxonomy is a cognitive framework of learning behaviors organized hierarchically in six categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. Bloom’s taxonomy is often used as a helpful tool to create learning objectives that help define and measure the learning experience for both student and instructor. (Anderson, 2001, Bloom, 1956, Krathwohl, 2002)
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs): “An approach designed to help teachers find out what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning it. This approach is learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and firmly rooted in good practice”. Through using a CAT the instructor is able to gather formative feedback on students learning to inform future teaching. (Angelo & Cross 1993)
Classroom Climate: “The intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments in which our students learn” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 170). Course climate is determined by factors like faculty-student interaction, the tone the instructor sets, course demographics, student-student interactions, and the range of perspectives represented in course content.
Cognitive Load: Cognitive load refers to the demands and limitations on working memory storage given the limited amount of information processing that can occur simultaneously in the verbal and the visual processing channels of the brain. (Mayer & Moreno 2003, Schnotz & Kürschner 2007)
Collaborative Learning: an umbrella term that covers many different methods in which students work together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Collaborative learning is founded in the concept that learning and knowledge building is social and requires active engagement from students. (Smith & MacGregor 1992)
Constructivism: A theory of learning popularized in the twentieth century that argues that knowledge is actively constructed rather than passively absorbed by learners. Constructivists contend that when learners acquire new knowledge, it is through a dynamic process in which the learner recreates existing mental models, situating this new information in terms of what they already know. Social constructivists additionally recognize the role of social interaction (co-construction) and communication as key forces in learning. Foundational constructivists include John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and Jean Piaget. Constructivist pedagogical strategies are grounded in constructivist theory and often include opportunities for experiential learning, active exploration, student interaction, and reflection. Courses designed around this principle emphasize connections among course concepts and themes and support students in forming relationships between this new knowledge and what they already know. See also zone of proximal development and student-centered teaching.
Bruner, J.S. (1974). Toward a theory of instruction. Harvard UP.
Eyler, J. (2018). “Sociality” How humans learn: The science and stories behind effective college teaching. West Virginia P.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard UP.
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A pedagogical framework where instructors center students’ cultural identities as an important aspect of learning. Those committed to this framework deliberately work to make connections between course content and students’ lived experiences in order to prompt student involvement and motivation. Culturally responsive course design includes cooperative, student-centered instruction and diverse course readings from a variety of voices and perspectives, particularly those voices which may fall outside of traditional collegiate canons (Landson-Billings 2006).
Burnham, K. (2019) Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies. Northeastern University Graduate Programs Blog
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). “But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy.” Theory into Practice 34(3), 159-165.
Experiential Learning: Experiential learning is a process by which students develop knowledge and skills from direct experience, usually outside a traditional academic setting. Examples include: internships, study abroad, community-based learning, service learning, and research opportunities. The concept was introduced by David Kolb in 1984 and combines both a cognitive and behavioral approach to learning (Kolb 1984).
Tran, M. (2016). Making a Case for Experiential Learning. Pearson.
Fixed Mindset: Mindset refers to the beliefs and attitudes held by a person and can affect their learning outcomes and achievement. Individuals with a fixed mindset (also referred to as entity theory) are outcomes-focused, don’t view intellectual ability as being malleable, and give up quickly on learning a new skill when learning becomes more challenging and difficult (Dweck, 2008, Dweck & Master 2008, Rattan et. Al. 2012, Yeager 2012). See also growth mindset.
Flipped Classroom: A flipped classroom is a teaching approach where students a first exposed to content before coming to a class session and then spend class time engaging more deeply with the ideas and concepts (Brame, 2013). This model encourages the use of active learning during in-person class sessions to allow students to explore concepts, solve problems, and discuss ideas with each other and the instructor.
Formative Assessment: Formative assessment is the process of providing feedback to students during the learning process. These are often low stakes activities that allow the instructor to check student work and provide feedback. An instructor writing comments and suggestions on a draft version of a paper is an example of formative assessment (Weimer 2013).
Growth Mindset: Mindset refers to the beliefs and attitudes held by a person and can affect their learning outcomes and achievement. Individuals with a growth mindset (also referred to as incremental theory) are process-focused, assess their performance relative to mastery of the material, and believe that intellectual ability is malleable. Having a growth mindset involves sustained effort toward learning new knowledge and reflection on past failures so that one can increase their knowledge and ability (Dweck, 2008, Dweck & Master 2008, Rattan et. Al. 2012, Yeager 2012). See also fixed mindset.
Hidden Curriculum: The hidden curriculum is a collection of unwritten norms, values, rules, and expectations that one must have awareness of in order to successfully navigate educational settings, but which remain unknown to those who have not been socialized into the dominant discourse (Smith, 2015, p.9). The hidden curriculum includes an understanding of school structures,resources, financial aid systems, and institutional rules, along with an awareness of cultural expectations for participating in class and communicating with peers and instructors. See also social belonging and transparent assignments.
Ostrove, J. & Long, S. (2007). “Social class and belonging: Implications for college adjustment.” The review of higher education 30(4).
Hidden Curriculum. The Glossary of Education Reform.
Inclusive Teaching: a mode of teaching that intentionally designs course content and curricula to engage with students of diverse backgrounds, abilities, and lived experiences. The ultimate goal of inclusive teaching is to create a learning environment where all students feel valued and supported to succeed.
Inclusive Teaching Strategies. Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University.
Making excellence inclusive. Association of American Colleges and Universities. (n.d.)
Strategies for Inclusive Teaching. Center for Teaching and Learning, Washington University in St. Louis.
Inquiry-Based Learning: Inquiry-based learning is an umbrella term that includes pedagogical strategies such as problem-based learning and case-based learning that prioritize students exploring, thinking, asking, and answering content questions with peers to acquire new knowledge through a carefully designed activity. Such activities build in opportunities for students to authentically engage in and apply the scientific process as scientists rather than following a predetermined protocol (LaForce et.al., 2017, Yew & Goh 2016). See also problem-based learning, project-based learning.
Learning Management System (LMS): A Learning Management System is a platform that enables instructors to organize and distribute course materials in a digital format. While features may vary, a typical LMS allows instructors to communicate with students, share readings, create and collect assignments, assess student work and post grades. An LMS may be used to compliment a face-to-face course or for an entirely online course. Popular platforms include Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle.
Learning Objective/Learning Goal/Learning Outcome: statements that articulate the knowledge and skills you want students to acquire by the end of the course or after completing a particular unit or assignment. Learning objectives help instructors to shape course content and assessments as well as increase transparency for students by clearly communicating expectations.
Articulate Your Learning Objectives. Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University
Metacognition: Metacognition involves metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation. Metacognitive knowledge is defined as thinking or having an awareness of one’s cognitive processes. Metacognitive regulation is the active monitoring of one’s cognition through planning (identifying appropriate learning strategies), monitoring (forming an awareness of one’s task performance) and evaluating (assessing and refining one’s learning through reflection) (Lai, 2011, Tanner, 2012).
Motivation: An individual’s “personal investment” in reaching a desired state or outcome as “seen in the direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of what is done and expressed” (Maeher, M.L. & Meyer, H.A., 1997, p. 373). Research suggests that motivation plays a vital role in directing and sustaining student learning. The most motivated students see value in the task, believe that they can accomplish the task, and feel that they are in a supportive environment (Ambrose et al, 2010, p. 80).