Conception of Teaching and Learning

Conception of Teaching


Teacher A prepared a lot of materials and tried his best to explain in as much detail as possible. He thinks the more he can tell the students, the more students can learn. Each question has a fixed answer and as soon as students make mistakes, he moves on to other students.

Teacher B heard about Activity Learning and he decided the best way to teach is to play games and inteact with his students.  He accepted all students’ responses because he wanted to show the students he is a kind teacher.

Teacher C thinks about what is important in the subject area as well as what students would be interested to know and how she can link concepts with experience when preparing the materials. She varied her activities from lecturing, question asking, to group work. She was interested to find out what students know and do not know and why they cannot understand.  The questions were of different types and she listened to student responses with interest to find out what they were thinking.  

Teacher D, in her science class asked the class to look at the diagram of a microscope in the textbook.  She then explained and wrote notes about these different parts of a microscope. After that, she asked the students to complete the exercise in the textbook matching the names of the major components of a microscope with their functions.


  • Which of the teaching practices do you like more?  Why?
  • Which of the teaching practices resemble your own teaching? What particular characteristics do they have in common?

(Cases adapted from HKU, PDGE Course "Classroom learning and student development' material)

Definition and types of conception of teaching

Researchers have found that teaching practices are often underpinned by a set of inter-related beliefs and values, which is generally known as 'conception of teaching'. There is also keen interest in understanding how teachers' conception of teaching affects their teaching as such influences the quality of students' learning.

“Conception of teaching” is an umbrella term that refers to a teacher's values, attitudes, beliefs and intentions towards teaching.

Types of conception of teaching:
Kember (1997) reviewed studies that examined teachers' conceptions of teaching, and summarized the major categories. In general, there are two contrasting conceptions, the teacher-centred and student-centred. In-between these two poles, there is an intermediate kind of conception. We will explore each of these three forms of conception of teaching in turn.

Student-centred conception of teaching includes the following set of beliefs
  • Teaching is viewed as a process of facilitating students' learning
  • Teacher is viewed as a facilitator to support students' learning
  • Students are considered to have agency and responsiblity of how to learn
  • Knowledge is constructed by the students
Teacher-centred conception of teaching includes the following set of beliefs
  • The teacher is viewed as presenter of information and knowledge, whereas
  • Teaching is viewed as a process of imparting information and knowledge from one end to another.
  • Students are considered as passive receiver as if they are empty vessels receiving the 'pouring' from the teacher
  • Knowledge is possessed by the teacher
Intermediate transitional conception of teaching includes the following sets of beliefs

In-between the two ends of conception of teaching, there is one in the middle that bears some of the characteristics from each pole:

  • Teaching is viewed as a process of student-teacher interaction
  • Teachers serve the dual role of a teacher and a tutor to facilitate learning
  • Students are considered as participants in the process
  • Knowledge is constructed by students within the teachers' framework


Why does understanding conception of teaching matter?

Conceptions of teaching affect an arrays of teachers' choices in practice, which include, teaching method, design and choice of learning tasks, design and choice of assessment tasks, assessment demands and workload of a subject/course. All of these can influence students’ ways of studying and the quality of learning.

  • For example, if a teacher has a teacher-centred conception of teaching, it is highly likely that he or she will rely on the use of lectures as the main activity to teach; see students attentiveness to one's lecture as the major criterion of goodness; and define knowledge as clear-cut.
  • On the other hand, if a teacher endorses a student-centred conception of teaching, it doesn't imply that he or she will never lecture in his or her class. On the contrary, it means that one will select the most appropriate form of activity to facilitate students' learning, and lecture is among one of the strategies. Furthermore, teacher will have a more malleable view of correctness and take mistake as good opportunities to aid students to construct knowledge.

(Extracted from Kember (1997), A reconceptualization of the research to university academics' conception of teaching, Learning and Instruction, 7, 255-275.)



  • So what is your candid answer to the question, 'What's your conception of teaching?'
  • How does the information in this website shed light on your conception of teaching?
  • What aspects would you like to change in your teaching practice to better align with your espoused conception of teaching?



  • Fox, D. (1983). Personal theories of teaching. Studies in Higher Education, 8, 151-163.
  • Kember, D (1997). A reconceptualization of the research into university academics conception of teaching, Learning and Instruction, 7, 255-275.
  • Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Joseey-Bass.
  • Pratt, D. D. (1992). Conceptions of teaching, Adult Education Quarterly, 42, 203-220.


Conception of Learning

Researchers found that learning behaviors, in like terms as coneption of teaching, are often underpinned by a set of inter-related beliefs and values, which is generally known as 'conception of learning'. There is also keen interest in understanding how students' conception of learning affects their studying and ultimately their quality of students' learning.

Definition and types of conception of learning

Conception of learning is an umbrella term that refers to one's values, attitude, beliefs and intention towards learning.

Quantitative conception of learning
  • Learning is gathering and remembering bits of information in acummulative manner.
  • Learning therefore is marked by countable number of facts and items remembered.
  • Contents to be learnt are isolated and unrelated items.
  • Process of learning is seen as transmission of knowledge from authority to oneself.
Qualitative conception of learning
  • Learning is about meaning making of new information encountered, understanding of self and ways of interpreting the world
  • Learning is therefore viewed as a developmental process
  • Contents to be learnt are complex and inter-related, and may have the potential to relate to one-self
  • Learning is the process of constructing meaning by students themselves with the facilitation of teachers.


Why does understanding students' conception of learning matter?

Conception of learning, like conception of teaching, affects an arrays of students' learning behavior, which includes, motivation to study, approach to study, perception of workload and how they understanding what constitutes knowledge and knowing. And all of these relate to quality of learning.

  • For example, if a student who endorses a quantitative conception of learning, he or she will likely to rely on rote learning and memorizing materials taught by teaching; and will not see the need to make sense of things learnt; will define knowledge as clear-cut and correctness can be neatly judged by teacher. Furthermore, students with this conception will be less likely to persist when in difficulty and see ill-structured problem as difficult and unnecessary and therefore as extra workload
  • On the other hand, if a student endorses a qualitative conception of learning, it is likely that he or she will actively make sense of those newly taught materials and relate to their existing knowledge; they will treat knowledge as inter-related and complex will therefore require persistence to acquire and construct.



  • Where did we first pick up our conception of teaching (as teacher) or conception of learning (as student)?
  • How would you explain the intricate relationship between teachers' conception of learning and students' conception of learning?
  • What is the implication of conception of teaching on students' learning from your own experience?