Teaching Resources

Glossary of Pedagogical Terms

Resource Overview

A quick reference and guide to 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).

Further Resources:

  • 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.

Further Resources:

  • 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.

Further Resources:

  • 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).

Further Resources:

  • 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).

Further Resource:

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.

Further Resources:

  • 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.

Further Resources:

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.

Further Resource:

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).

Further Resource:

  • Lazowski, R.A. & Hulleman, C.S. (2016). “Motivation interventions in education: A meta-analytic review.” Review of Educational Research 86(2) 602-640.

Object-Based Learning (OBL): Object-based learning (OBL) is a teaching method whereby students engage with authentic or replica material objects in their learning in order to gain discipline-specific knowledge or to practice observational or practical skills that can be applied in various fields. “Objects” can include a number of different material items often housed in museums: specimens, works of art, architectural forms, relics, manuscripts and rare books, archival documents, or artifacts of various kinds. Research on OBL suggests that “objects can inspire, inform, fascinate and motivate learners at all stages of their education” (Jamieson, 2017, p. 12).

Further Resource:

  • Chatterjee, H. J. (2016). Engaging the senses: Object-based learning in higher education. Routledge.

Pedagogy: Pedagogy is the method, practice and study of effective teaching. In order to be effective, instructors must have both subject-based knowledge and pedagogic knowledge and skills (Barkley & Major, 2016).

Problem-Based Learning:  A form of student-centered teaching that focuses on having students work through open-ended problems to explore course material. Students are asked to define the problem as part of the process, research content outside of class time and iterate solutions to arrive at their final response (Nilson, L.B., 2016)

Project-Based Learning: A form of student-centered teaching that engages students with course content as they work through a complex project. These projects are typically real-world scenarios and multifaceted. Project-based learning encourages interdisciplinary conversations and groups work.

Further Resource:

Retrieval Practice: Retrieval practice involves retrieving new knowledge from memory in order for durable retention in long-term memory.  The process is supported by experiments which explore student’s recall of new material.  Retrieval practice can take the form of frequent, low-stakes quizzes, or students may employ methods like flashcards for self-testing (Brown et.al. 2014, retrievalpractice.org).

 Scaffolding: A process by which instructors build on a student’s previous experience or knowledge by adding in specific timely support structures in the form of activities or assignments for students to master new knowledge or skills and achieve learning goals (Greening, 1998, Hmelo-Silver et.al. 2007). See also Zone of Proximal Development.

 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): an approach to college-level teaching that frames teaching as a form of scholarly inquiry. Through engaging in SoTL instructors examine their students’ learning to innovate and engage in knowledge-sharing with colleagues (Huber 2013). Instructors who engage in SoTL as part of their teaching are encouraged to reflect on personal assumptions and curiosities about how their students learn. Then consider how to test the validity of these ideas. Examples of SoTL projects include exploring the impact of implementing a single active learning strategy, considering the impact of reflection on student learning, determining the impact of a complete course restructure (Poole 2018).

Social Belonging: Social belonging is a state when students feel welcomed and included into a community where they can engage freely and foster positive relationships with others (Walton & Cohen, 2011).

 Summative Assessment: Summative assessment is the process of measuring a student’s learning at the conclusion of a course (or a portion of the course). Summative assessments are typically associated with grades and can take the form of quizzes, exams or papers.

Stereotype Threat: Stereotypes are negative generalizations about groups of people.  When students are subtly or overtly made aware (primed) of these stereotypes while performing challenging academic tasks in domains that are important to them, students begin to underperform in these tasks.  Anxiety about confirming a negative stereotype creates additional cognitive load that reduces the capacity of working memory in the brain (Aronson et.al. 1999, Steele & Aronson 1995).

Student-centered teaching: Instructor-center teaching refers to instructors teaching content solely through a passive approach such as lecturing while students listen and take notes with minimal interaction with other students.  Student-centered teaching, however, consists of instructors using a wide range of pedagogical approaches for students to learn and actively engage with the course content by having students construct knowledge with peers through collaboration, discussion, group projects, and problem solving (Felder & Brent 1996, Freeman et.al. 2007, Handelsman et.al. 2007). See also inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, constructivism, zone of proximal development.

 Student Engagement: Student engagement describes the ways in which students take part in the learning process and the development of their own knowledge. An increase in student engagement is thought to be linked to an increase in student learning. Student engagement is often tied to active learning techniques and student motivation (McVitty 2015).

Further Resource:

Synchronous instruction: Synchronous instruction is the idea that students learn material at the same time.  Examples of synchronous instruction might include lectures, discussions or collaborative activities. When applied to remote learning, students must be online at the same time.  This approach can be disadvantageous if students are spread across different time zones or have limited access to technology.

 Teaching Development Plan (TDP): a written document that helps instructors focus on teaching specific career goals. A TDP encourages instructors to set goals, and periodically reflect on both progress and barriers faced while working towards these goals.

Threshold Concept: Thresholds are crucial barriers in the learning process where students often get “stuck”. These ideas are essential to understanding a particular discipline and progress in the discipline can be blocked until that barrier to understanding has been overcome. Examples of discipline-based threshold concepts include deep time in geology or the idea of constructed narrative in history (Meyer & Land 2006, Pace 2017).

Transfer: A cognitive process by which a learner takes what they’ve learned in one context and successfully applies it to another. Transfer is often broken down into “near transfer” (transfer of knowledge to a similar task or context) and “far transfer” (transfer of knowledge to novel tasks or contexts). Given that a central purpose of education is for students to take what they have learned into other classes and then into their lives beyond school, this has long been a critical area of study in educational and educational psychology research (Perkins & Salomon 2012).

Further Resources:

Transparent Assignment Design: An inclusive teaching practice first proposed by Mary-Ann Winkelmes and her instructional development and research team at UNLV, transparent assignments help students understand the purpose of the assessment, clearly describe the task and how it should be accomplished, and plainly define criteria for success. Assignment transparency has been shown to significantly boost student success in terms of academic confidence, sense of belonging, and metacognitive awareness of skill development (Winkelmes et al. 2016). See also social belonging and hidden curriculum.

Further Resources:

  • Hutchins, P., Winkelmes, M. “Transparency in Leaching and Learning”. PDF of Powerpoint slides.
  • Winkelmes, M. et al. (2015). “Benefits (some unexpected) of transparently designed assignments.” National Teaching & Learning Forum 24(4), 4-6.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Universal Design for Learning is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.  Designing a course according to UDL principles is centered on the key concepts of: engagement, representation, and action & expression.  These are sometimes summarized as the Why, What and How of learning (Murawski & Scott 2019, Tobin 2018, CAST.org).

 Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): This developmental zone stands between what the learner can already do on their own and what they cannot yet do. It is the range in which a learner is able to move from point A to point B with assistance from peers or an instructor; in other words, the zone in which learning takes place. The concept was originally described in the work of Soviet psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky (Vygotsky 1978). See also constructivism and scaffolding.


Ambrose, S. et al. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Anderson LW, Krathwohl DR. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longmans.

Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. 2nd Ed. Jossey Bass

Aronson, J., Lustina, M. J., Good, C., Keough, K., Steele, C. M., & Brown, J. (1999). When White Men Can’t Do Math: Necessary and Sufficient Factors in Stereotype Threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 35, 29-46.

Barkley, E.F. and C.H. Major (2016). Learning Assessment Techniques: a handbook for college faculty.  Jossey Bass.

Bloom BS. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals. Longmans.

Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 6/11/20 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/.

Brown, Peter C., H.L Roediger, M.A. McDaniel (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Harvard University Press.

Darby, F., Lang, J.M. (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. Jossey-Bass

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and math/science achievement. Carnegie Foundation.

Dweck, C. S., & Master, A. (2008). “Self-theories motivate self-regulated learning”. In Schunk, D. H. Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research, and applications (pp. 31–51). Taylor & Francis.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College teaching44(2), 43-47.

Freeman, S., O’Connor, E., Parks, J. W., Cunningham, M., Hurley, D., Haka, D., Dirks, C. & Wenderoth, M. P. (2007). Prescribed active learning increases performance in introductory biology. CBE—Life Sciences Education6(2), 132-139.

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Handelsman, J., Miller, S., & Pfund, C. (2007). Scientific teaching. Macmillan.

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Huber, M. (2013). What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning? Stanford Teaching Commons. Retrieved on 6/11/2020 from https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/teaching-talk/what-scholarship-teaching-and-learning-mary-huber

LaForce, M., Noble, E., & Blackwell, C. (2017). Problem-based learning (PBL) and student interest in STEM careers: The roles of motivation and ability beliefs. Education Sciences7(4), 92.

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