Teaching V Instruction

Written by Dan

As a teacher, you know how important it is to find the best approach to engage your students. But what if there’s more than just one way? Teaching and instruction— while they may sound similar, teaching and instruction have distinct differences that can dramatically influence how students and teachers experience the learning process. In this article, we’ll explore what makes teaching different from instruction— from developing relationships with students to the importance of collaboration — so you can leverage their unique strengths for successful student outcomes.

1. Defining the Difference Between Teaching and Instruction

What is Teaching?

Teaching, in its broadest sense, is a process that facilitates learning. It’s about creating an environment of respect and understanding, nurturing a love for learning, and helping students to develop critical thinking skills. Teachers don’t just deliver content; they inspire curiosity, motivate learners, and guide them towards understanding the material. They often consider individual students’ needs, learning styles, and interests to create a comprehensive learning experience.

What is Instruction?

Conversely, instruction is more focused on the systematic procedure of imparting knowledge or skills. An instructor typically follows a set curriculum or lesson plan, delivering information in a structured way, often without much deviation. The emphasis here is on transferring knowledge from the instructor to the student to master specific skills or concepts. Instruction often involves direct explanation, demonstration, and practice.

The Key Differences

While both teaching and instruction aim to educate, the critical difference lies in their approach. Teaching is more student-centered, focusing on the learner’s development. It’s about shaping attitudes, sparking interest, and fostering a deep understanding of subjects.

Instruction, in contrast, is more content-centered. It’s about conveying specific information or skills, following a structured and linear path to learning. While this can be effective for certain types of learning, it may not necessarily encourage critical thinking or creativity to the same extent as a more holistic teaching approach.

2. The Benefits of Teaching vs Instruction in Education

Benefits of Teaching

Fosters Critical Thinking

Teaching encourages students to think critically and solve problems creatively. Teachers can help nurture a sense of curiosity and a love for learning by creating an environment where students are encouraged to question and explore.

Encourages Lifelong Learning

Teachers inspire students to become lifelong learners. They do this by making learning relevant and meaningful, connecting lessons to real-world situations, and showing students how knowledge can be applied beyond the classroom.

Builds Confidence and Independence

Good teaching helps students build confidence and independence. Teachers support students in their learning journey, providing feedback and encouragement, which helps them to develop self-esteem and resilience in their abilities.

Benefits of Instruction

Provides Clear Learning Objectives

Instruction provides clear and specific learning objectives. This allows students to understand precisely what is expected of them and what they need to know or be able to do by the end of a lesson or course.

Ensures Consistency and Structure

Instruction ensures consistency and structure in the learning process. It provides a clear path for students to follow, which can be particularly beneficial for those needing a more structured learning approach.

Facilitates Mastery of Specific Skills

Instruction facilitates the mastery of specific skills or knowledge. Through repetition and practice, students can achieve proficiency in particular areas, which can be crucial in subjects that require a high level of skill or understanding.

Both teaching and instruction have unique benefits and can be effectively used in different scenarios or blended for a more comprehensive approach to education.

3. How to Incorporate Both Teaching and Instruction in the Classroom

Blending Teaching and Instruction

It’s not about choosing teaching over instruction or vice versa. Both methodologies can complement each other and be used effectively in different situations. The key is to find a balance that suits your students’ learning styles and the subject matter.

Use Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is a teaching method where teachers proactively plan varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it, and how they can express what they’ve learned. This approach allows for both teaching and instruction as it considers the diverse student learning needs and adjusts the curriculum accordingly.

Implement Co-Teaching Strategies

Co-teaching strategies involve two or more teachers working with groups of students, sharing the planning, organization, delivery, and assessment of instruction and the physical space. This allows for a blend of both instructional and teaching methods.

Practical Classroom Applications

Group Activities and Individual Learning

You can divide your class into small groups for certain activities, promoting cooperative learning and interaction (teaching), while also providing individual tasks or instructions for specific skills (instruction).

Interactive Technology

Integrating technology in the classroom can be an effective way to combine teaching and instruction. Online platforms and digital tools can provide structured learning materials (instruction) and interactive features that encourage exploration and collaboration (teaching).

Student-Centered Lessons

Design lessons around real-world contexts and problems that are relevant to the students. This promotes active learning and critical thinking (teaching), while you can also provide direct instruction to guide students towards solutions.

By incorporating both teaching and instruction in the classroom, educators can create a versatile and dynamic learning environment that caters to all students’ diverse needs and learning styles.

4. Types of Active Learning Strategies for Teaching and Instruction 

Active Learning in Teaching

Active learning is a critical component of effective teaching. It involves strategies that require students to actively engage in the learning process rather than passively absorbing information.

Reciprocal Questioning

This strategy encourages students to develop questions about a topic and then discuss them with peers. It promotes critical thinking and helps students better understand the material.

Three-Step Interviews

In this approach, students interview each other, share their partner’s responses with a small group, and present their group’s findings to the whole class. This activity fosters communication skills and collaboration.

The Pause Procedure

The pause procedure involves pausing during a lecture or discussion to allow students to reflect on the information, ask questions, or discuss critical points with peers. This can enhance comprehension and retention of material.

Active Learning in Instruction

Active learning can also be incorporated into more structured instructional methods to facilitate the mastery of specific skills or knowledge.

Direct Explanation and Demonstration

Provide clear and concise explanations or demonstrations, then allow students to practice the skill or apply the knowledge. Provide feedback and guidance as needed.

Case Studies

Present students with real-world scenarios or problems they must solve using the concepts or skills they learned. This promotes critical thinking and allows students to see the practical applications of their learning.

Just-in-Time Teaching

This strategy involves providing instructional materials (like readings or lecture videos) for students to review before class. Then, use class time for active learning activities that build on this pre-class work.

Educators can create a more engaging and effective learning environment by incorporating these active learning strategies into both teaching and instruction.

5. Tips for Creating an Effective Learning Environment Through Teaching vs Instruction 

Creating an effective learning environment requires a balance of teaching and instruction. Here are some tips on how to leverage the strengths of both approaches:

Incorporate Interactive Elements

Active Participation

Encourage active participation from all students. This can be achieved through group discussions, presentations, and collaborative projects. Active participation promotes engagement and deeper understanding of the material.

Use of Technology

Utilize technology to facilitate both teaching and instruction. Digital tools can provide structured learning materials and also promote interactive learning experiences.

Provide Clear Goals and Expectations

Set Clear Objectives

Whether you’re teaching or instructing, setting clear objectives for your lessons is crucial. Students should understand what they’re expected to learn and how they’ll be assessed.

Provide Constructive Feedback

Regularly provide constructive feedback to your students. This helps them understand their progress and areas of improvement, fostering a growth mindset.

Foster a Positive Learning Environment

Encourage Open Communication

Promote open communication in the classroom. Encourage students to ask questions, share their thoughts, and engage in discussions. This fosters a positive learning environment where students feel comfortable and motivated to learn.

Respect Individual Differences

Recognize and respect individual differences among your students. Understanding their unique learning styles, interests, and challenges can help you tailor your teaching and instruction methods to suit their needs better.

By implementing these tips, you can create an effective learning environment that capitalizes on the strengths of both teaching and instruction, leading to successful student outcomes.

6. Identifying Future Trends in Teaching vs Instruction

The education landscape is continuously evolving, with new trends that influence both teaching and instruction. Here are some future trends that educators should be aware of:

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning tailors education to meet the unique needs of each student. It allows for individual pacing, interests, and learning styles. This trend leans more towards the teaching side of the spectrum as it fosters a student-centred approach.

Blended Learning

Blended learning combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online learning. This model offers a balanced approach between teaching and instruction, providing structure while promoting self-paced and interactive learning.


Gamification involves using game design elements in educational contexts. This can make learning more engaging and fun and can be applied in both teaching and instruction scenarios.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent in education. AI can personalize learning experiences, automate grading, and provide students with additional support. Depending on its application, AI can serve both instructional and teaching purposes.

Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning (SEL) focuses on developing students’ skills for life effectiveness, such as self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. This trend aligns more with the teaching approach, emphasizing holistic student development.

Educators who stay informed about these trends and adapt their teaching and instruction methods accordingly will better prepare their students for the future.

Teaching and instruction, each with unique strengths, play vital roles in education. Teaching fosters curiosity and critical thinking, while instruction ensures specific skill mastery. Balancing these approaches offers a comprehensive learning experience. Active learning strategies, clear objectives, and a positive environment blend teaching and instruction effectively. With evolving educational trends like personalized learning, gamification, and artificial intelligence, educators must stay adaptable to create effective learning environments for their students.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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