Old vs. modern teaching methods

Updated April 17, 2017

Teaching methods in the UK have altered considerably since the formation of the country's education system around the end of the sixth century. However, a more marked change in teaching techniques occurred at the beginning of the 21st century when the concept of “student-centred” or “child-centred” teaching methods gained popularity. These modern teaching methods made a clean break from “teacher-centred” teaching methods. However, "old" methods are still widely used to this day.


The main difference between old, teacher-centred education methods and newer, child-centred techniques lies in their delivery. The traditional model of education involved a teacher imparting knowledge at the front of a class, typically from a text book, with minimal input or participation from her students. Child-centred learning requires teachers to use team tasks and leading questions to encourage pupils to discover facts for themselves.

Social control

Traditional teaching methods, including direct instruction, require teachers to keep good order in their classrooms. They need to address a large room filled with about 30 children and make sure each child has an equal chance of hearing and understanding lessons. This requires techniques of control. Children are disciplined for talking and are not allowed to communicate with each other, but direct their full attention to the teacher at all times.

Social contact

Child-centred learning encourages children to suggest paths and interact with each other. It relies on the ability of the children in a class to teach each other. Rather than some children switching off and feeling marginalised, the child-centred method aims to support children to help teach each other, which levels out different ability levels in a class so students are more likely to achieve a uniform standard.


Child-centred teaching methods do not allow the teacher to put his feet up while the children get on with the task of teaching themselves. On the contrary, the method requires more work than the old, teacher-centred approach. The new methods require more preparation and usually involve more media, such as DVDs and computer-based learning. The teacher has to lead a discussion among the class and present a study structure that relies on psychological insights into how children think. Traditional methods involve, almost exclusively, "direct instruction," which is the standard practice of the teacher giving the lesson from the front of the class, while the children sit and listen.


Old teaching methods maintain discipline through physical punishments and laborious tasks, like the repeated writing of the same line of text. Discipline is not eradicated in child-centred learning. However, it is managed through coercion and personality. The new approach to teaching involves “positive discipline.” This, however, is the most problematic aspect of the method because it assumes, if given respect and dignity, children will not rebel. However, as any parent knows, no amount of coaxing can calm a disruptive child. A “bad apple” is more likely to influence a group than a teacher, and the cohesion of a group is central to the success of child-centred learning. Whereas, in traditional methods, a disruptive child is punished, the newer methods have to subject the child to exclusion or extensive one-on-one psychological treatment.

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About the Author

Stephen Byron Cooper began writing professionally in 2010. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computing from the University of Plymouth and a Master of Science in manufacturing systems from Kingston University. A career as a programmer gives him experience in technology. Cooper also has experience in hospitality management with knowledge in tourism.