Ever sat through a lecture and wondered where your thoughts wandered? Education experts increasingly agree that lecture-based teaching simply doesn’t work. Instead of just listening to the teacher talk for an hour, experts now believe that students benefit from engaging through solo presentations, group discussions, and other interactive approaches.
Notably, one meta-analysis revealed that students subjected to traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to miss learning objectives compared to those involved in active learning strategies.
This data should be encouraging if you’re focused on getting students actively involved in the learning process. However, it poses a deeper question about how to approach active learning. Specifically, many teachers wonder if they should use implicit or explicit teaching strategies. To learn more about these approaches, here’s a closer look at implicit versus explicit learning.
How you guide your students through learning makes all the difference. Implicit and explicit instruction shape how students interact with the learning material. While the explicit instruction definition revolves around the teacher giving direct lessons and guidance, implicit instruction centers around students learning more independently.
Here is an implicit learning example: A second language teacher presents a movie clip that features new vocabulary. The teacher doesn’t directly ask the students to memorize these target words. Instead, once the video is done, the teacher presents articles and other media that incorporate the target words. Similar to Montessori techniques, this allows students to organically encounter the new words and piece together definitions based on context clues.
Think of implicit learning models like the classic Pavlovian dog experiment. As students are exposed to the learning material, they subconsciously develop their own understanding of the subject without direct instruction.
Here is an example of explicit learning: A teacher directly gives students vocabulary memorization worksheets, requiring them to match the words to their definitions based on the previous lecture. The students explicitly understand the learning goal—to memorize the vocabulary words, and they have a clear directive for achieving that goal—to match the words with their definitions.
Ask yourself these questions to decide if a lesson uses implicit or explicit instruction:
The benefits and drawbacks of each approach can vary based on factors such as your students’ ages and existing knowledge. Generally speaking, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to consider before implementing either approach.
Consider again a second language teacher presenting media that features new vocabulary. Without direct instruction to look for unfamiliar words, some students might tune out the lesson and miss the new vocabulary.
Given the complexity of teaching, it’s no surprise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer in the implicit versus explicit learning debate. On one hand, a study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that many students fared better with explicit instruction, and many other researchers have found similar results. Still, other studies frequently show that people can effectively gain knowledge through implicit instruction.
For you as a teacher, this means implicit and explicit instruction can work hand-in-hand. Using the example of a second language class, the teacher could still provide a vocabulary memorization worksheet, but instead of only having students match definitions, they can also ask them to incorporate the new words into sentences.
This strategy clarifies the learning objectives while also fostering students’ ability to apply and integrate new vocabulary on their own, effectively merging directive teaching with self-directed learning for a comprehensive educational experience.
Through a combined approach, you can give yourself and your students visible learning goals while still leaving space for independent thinking and self-direction, creating a more enriching and effective learning environment.