Teaching Strategies

5 Rules Why Teachers Should Stop Spoon-Feeding

October 6, 2016 Updated October 5, 2016

About me:

A fully qualified and experienced teacher. My majority of teaching experience is with students aged 16 to 19. I was consistently rated as an outstanding teacher, but when then 9 o’clock bell rang which signaled us that it is time to start teaching, my colleagues use to joke around and say, “let’s go and facilitate”. Was this a joke, or correct observation? Should we act more like a teacher or more like a facilitator?

Words such as “learning”, “lifelong learning”, and “learning for life” do not exactly spark ideas of excitement for many people [1]. But one important thing that differentiates us as human beings, and enables us as the most advanced species, is our profound ability to learn [1]. And as teachers we cannot make students learn, but only moderate their learning process: either encouraging them to learn or discouraging them away from learning [1].

So why have some adults learned to hate learning? Why do some adults neglect learning? Why do some adults turn their nose up at learning, and say it is just not for me? This is normal, but this is not natural! This blog is about my insights and thoughts that I had whilst reading some excellent literature on adult education, whilst concurrently thinking about my own experiences as a teacher.

Here I present 5 rules about learning:

Rule 1: Knowledge is nothing by itself

Most knowledge “learned” in schools and universities is forgotten soon after the exam [1]. If we forget what we are learning why bother learning in the first place?

A classic perspective by some teachers is to see the students’ heads as empty vessels where the teachers will pour information into. But these facts come in one ear and go out the other (in time). Learned today, gone tomorrow. Is this a familiar story in your experience in education? Moreover, facts are useless for living unless you have developed the skills to use them, and also have developed the skills to obtain more facts as and when you need them [1].

Rule 2: The most important thing to learn in schools is learning how to learn

The sooner a student can learn without a teacher holding their hand the better. Once a student learns to learn for themselves, and develop a confidence in their own learning, they can enjoy the learning process. Those students that have relied on “hand-holding” and “spoon-feeding” throughout their education experience are less likely to develop the skills necessary to become independent-lifelong learners; quite simply, because they have never learned how to learn.

Rule 3: Leave the children alone, but give them guidance to help them find their own path

The correct perspective presented by Rolf Arnold [1] is to see the teacher, rather, as a learning counselor – who guides and directs students to learn for themselves.

Rule 4: Learning to learn takes place within 3 domains of learning

Students can develop learning confidence, and learning competence, in 3 different domains. Clearly, we must develop students learning abilities in all of these domains. Bloom and colleagues [3] outline three different domains in which learning can take place:

  1. Cognitive: mental skills (knowledge)
  2. Affective: growth in feelings or emotional areas (attitude or self)
  3. Psychomotor: manual or physical (skills)

It is clear from my experience that often a student may develop an early or natural confidence in one of these domains. Then students often show a favoritism in this domain of learning and leave behind the confidence and competence in another domain. It is therefore necessary for students to be reflective and identify their areas of improvement. Again, as students mature, the teachers again can work towards being a counselor, where they encourage the student to take responsibility for their own learning. Students therefore develop learning confidence, and learning competence, in different domains. Teachers can only encourage or discourage [1] the development the students ability to learn how to learn in each of these three domains.

Rule 5: Adults are expert independent learners and we can learn from how they learn

Children may be extremely capable in learning, but expertise in being an independent learner must be learned. We may look at children and be amazed by what they can learn information like sponges. Thus, here the teacher, is the central focus. The teacher or parent must therefore show a young child what to do and how to do it. Knowles and colleagues [4] and other leading researches acknowledge the need for this form of learning in the early years of childhood development. But as children get older and work towards adulthood there is a need for learning to move away from this method (move away from acting as an instructor/ feeder).

Rather, as Rolf Arnold [1] discusses, teachers must progressively take the role as the “learning counselor” – guiding students: to learn how to learn, become independent learners, improve confidence in learning, and to develop a love for learning.


Be innovative and develop your student’s ability to work independently alone or in group settings, as independent learners. This will free up your time as a practitioner to work on teaching higher order skills [3]; thus, rather than spending time spoon-feeding and hand-holding, over time, you are teaching students how they can learn for themselves, where you help students discover the incredible learning ability we all have as human beings. [1]

Acknowledgements and final word

I never knew why I was being rated as an outstanding teacher. But after reading Rolf Arnold’s book How to Teach Without Instructing now I know the answer to this question: I am not an outstanding teacher, but, an outstanding facilitator of learning!


Do you see yourself as a teacher or a facilitator of learning?

Recommended reading and references

  1. Arnold, R. (2015). How to teach without instructing: 29 smart rules for educators. Rowman & Littlefield:Lanham, Maryland (ISBN-13: 978-1475817751, ISBN-10: 1475817754).
  2. Seligman, M. E. P. (1972). "Learned helplessness". Annual Review of Medicine. 23 (1): 407–412.
  3. Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.
  4. Knowles M., et al. (2005) The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 6th edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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