Learning Formats and Techniques
A Glossary by Type of Learning


Learning resources and formats used for adults are many and varied. What one has to learn, ie., an understanding or new information, an ability or skill, enhancement of an attitude, is better conveyed by certain formats. This glossary of learning formats is arranged by type of learning needed:


a.     To attain information, ideas or concepts

b.      To learn through demonstration and observation

c.      To practice skills, techniques, and thinking processes

d.     To increase in-depth understanding

e.     To meet a variety of learning objectives




  1. To attain information, ideas, or concepts:


Book/Journal Article (see also Journal Club)

          Self contained lesson on a specific topic (see "Reading for Learning" following)



A series of sessions prepared by an instructor, usually with a well defined subject and scope. Commonly focused on the dissemination of knowledge, but sometimes may include skills building or attitudinal training. May use various technologies, as well as be campus/site based.


Correspondence Study/Course (see also Independent Study)

          A packaged program directed toward specific educational objectives. Can use a variety of print and non-print techniques. Self directing. Relies on learner initiative and sustained interest over a period of time.


Discussion Group/Peer Exchange (see also User Groups)

Group of people talk about topic(s) of mutual concern. May be based on common background or experience. Often moderated by a designated discussion leader. Success may depend on skills of moderator. Can include electronic chat rooms, bulletin boards, e-mail.


Interactive Television/Videocassettes

          Useful for providing visual connectivity or portrayal of realistic situations. Needs to be selected carefully for audience level and relevance to what is to be learned. May be used to stimulate discussion. Videotape also can record immediate events and provide playback for review and analysis as well as be part of learning kits.



          Two or more individuals conduct a discussion before an audience. The individuals may be subject experts or experienced practitioners. Method can be used to explore a problem in-depth, presenting conflicting points of view or stimulate audience interest.


Independent Study

          Self study based upon agreement between individual and instructor, mentor, supervisor.


Internet based learning/courses


Journal Clubs



Information presented by an individual to a group for purposes of instruction in a particular subject area. Relies on transmission of information. May be supplemented by use of visuals and exhibits. Easily controlled time, scope and depth. Impact varies with speaker credibility, with learner acceptance and the relevance of the topic and focus.


Media (audio tape, tele-conferencing)

          Information presented audially and visually through and of technology. Learning in enhanced when accompanied by discussion groups with capabilities to create question and answer or dialog situations or by using other interactive technologies such as e-mail, electronic bulletin boards and chat rooms.


Programmed Instruction/Computer Aided Instruction

A self instructional method of learning which may use print or non-print materials or be computer based. A series of steps gradually increasing in complexity lead the learner through a sequence: acquisition of information and testing for comprehension. Self-paced. Relies on learner initiative. Gives immediate evidence of learning.



A recognized expert meets with a small group of learners, usually for the purpose of exploring a subject in-depth. Learners expected to prepare papers for discussion. Offers the advantages of guidance and expertise with in-depth discussion.



          Projected still visual images, usually accompanied by an audio tape or scripted message. Valuable for teaching recognition and principles.



          A presenter or group of presenters deals with a single subject. Usually opportunity for the audience to question and comment.



  1. To learn through demonstration and observation:



A conference is a gathering of people for exchange of points of vie, presentation of new ideas, methods, technologies, and consideration of problems of mutual concern.



May show a method or a result. Usually describes each step or element sequentially. Is often combined with an opportunity for the learner to try. Exhibits may be of materials, equipment, or displays or step-by-step processes for reference and reminder.


Field Trip/Tour

Learners go to a site, such as a library, a school, a vendor, to learn. Often a guide will assist learners to understand what is going on. Required reading or other preparations aids the depth of learning.


Job Exchange/Internship

Opportunity to work in a different library or library position for varying lengths of time to observe new practices, compare techniques, and generally broaden perspectives.


Teaching Library

Students or librarians working part-time in libraries, within a region selected for their exemplary service and/or staff, under the supervision of mentors on the libraries/ staff who will collaborate closely with others (e.g., library education program faculty) in learning objectives. Mentors are chosen by the collaborating libraries as representative of the most outstanding members of their staffs.


  1. To practice skills, techniques, and thinking processes:


Case Study

A realistic situation presented in verbal, written or film form to a group of learners. Work done individually, in small groups or in a total group. Designed to illustrate the principles. Gives a shared experience with built-in problems for learners to address.



Use of resource people and consultants interacting with learners to help analyze and discuss problems on a particular topic.


Committee/Task Force

A group of individuals charged with a defined task. Often used for planning or getting something done. Lends itself to deeper understanding of the issue with which the committee deals. Opportunity to practice skills of working with colleagues.


Critical Incident

Blends the methods of case study and role play. Focus is on a simulated situation which requires the learner(s) to act in a way that will alleviate or solve the problem.



Getting practical experience under the supervision of an experienced workers.


Peer Coaching

Coaching involving colleagues to offer realistic suggestions, observe behaviors, and provide specific feedback. Uses a written learning contract between colleagues to develop specified behaviors through guidance, practice and feedback for a given period of time.


Role Playing

A simulated situation involving realistic incidents presenting a problem situation which must be solved. The role play may be structured with parts and scripts or with only roles designated to be enacted spontaneously.



Contrived situation using a model that duplicates as many real life situations as possible. Learners experience the situation, derive the principles that apply and exercise problem-solving methods.


  1. To increase in-depth understanding:



Providing guidance, advice, strategies and opportunities for improvement; a regularly repeated process which includes continual observation and feedback, can be between supervisor/supervisee or between peers.


Job Instruction

Teaches the nature and practice of a task or series of tasks. Usually involves demonstration and observation followed by supervised practice of the learner.


Job Rotation

Shifting responsibilities and task assignments for personnel to learn a broader range of competencies.


Laboratory Training

A residential program for the purpose of learning, usually in the area of human relations skills, personal self-awareness and group skills.



Junior employees or new members are linked with more senior experienced employees or members, usually for a prescribed period of time to introduce new people to inner workings of organization and to help them with career advancement.



A period of freedom from regular assignments for purposes of travel or study.


  1. To meet a variety of learning objectives:



A series of meetings around a central focus. Uses resource people and consultant staff as sources of information on the subject. Often employs workshop techniques.



A staff or peer group getting away from a work site for one day or more for reflection, planning, or in-depth consideration of a topic, issue or problem. Good for considering mission, identifying long-range goals, boosting morale, and as an opportunity for peer and staff exchange and to become aware of other's strengths.


User Groups

Group of customers, usually of a vendor's product, meeting at intervals to discuss possible improvements, common needs, and to problem solve. Often moderated.



Brings together a group with a similar background and common concerns about a topic. Instructors and resource people may be used, but the bulk of the responsibility for learning rests with the participants. Often combines learning knowledge, skills, attitudes. Usually short and intensive.





Source: Continuing Library Information Media Education Committee (CLIME) Excellence and Growth Through Continuing Education: A Guide for Library Staff and Managers in Minnesota. St. Paul: Office of Library Development and Services, 1988.

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