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Alternative Adult Teaching Practices

Updated on September 14, 2020
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Jacqueline Williamson graduated with a BBA in Personnel Admin., an MPA in HR Management and an MS in Education.

When you are enthusiastic about teaching ... students will be about learning.
When you are enthusiastic about teaching ... students will be about learning.


Most teachers use Direct Instruction as the preferred method when presenting their lessons to students. Although this is by far the easiest way of introducing new material to the students, it may not always be the most effective method.

There are numerous other techniques that instructors should research and incorporate into the classroom to stimulate interest. Discussion techniques permit the teacher to introduce issues, problems, and ideas into a classroom environment that would be difficult to include in any other way. The interchange of ideas that forms the basis for discussion is useful in helping the instructor to achieve course objectives in the affective domain (the development of student awareness, interests, attitudes, and values).

This module is designed to give the instructor the skills needed in planning and effectively conducting group, panel discussions, and symposium discussions.

Adult students who work together in planning their presentations are more likely to remember the subject than working alone.
Adult students who work together in planning their presentations are more likely to remember the subject than working alone.

Group Discussions, Panel Discussions, and Symposiums

Whenever two or three people are gathered together, a discussion usually takes place. People enjoy the stimulation of discussion and frequently find that discussion with friends changes their own attitudes or help them solve a personal problem. Discussion is one method by which new ideas may be tested, and it is not excessive to say that this process of interchange of ideas is basic to the democratic process.

Discussion is also used in the classroom. However, in the classroom, it needs to have much more definite aims and structure than does the discussion that takes place on the street corner or around the restaurant table. The guided classroom discussion is designed by the teacher to develop group understanding and, perhaps, general agreement through talk and reflective thinking. Its aims are to

  1. Stimulate thought and analysis
  2. Encourage interpretations of the facts
  3. Develop new attitudes or change old ones.

Try to arrange informal group sessions for your adult learners.
Try to arrange informal group sessions for your adult learners.

Differences in the Discussion Techniques

There are differences as well as advantages and disadvantages of each of the three discussion techniques. These are presented in the statements that follow.

The Group Discussion

The Group Discussion involves the entire class of students, organized for the purpose of (1) sharing information concerning a specific topic and (2) analyzing and evaluating that information in order to arrive at some general conclusions.


  • It involves the entire class.
  • It allows a great diversity of viewpoints to be expressed.
  • A subject matter expert—the teacher, directs the process.
  • It gives the entire class an opportunity to check on the ideas presented.
  • It can stimulate critical thinking.
  • It allows for arriving at group consensus.


  • Discussion moves slowly, the class may be sidetracked.
  • A few talkers may dominate discussion.

The Panel Discussion

A Panel Discussion is essentially, a small-group discussion overheard by an audience. The panel members are seated before the class in a manner that allows them to talk with one another easily and, at the same time, be seen and heard by the class.


  • It provides for the spontaneous interaction of participants and audience.
  • It allows for both questions and answers.
  • Fast-moving questions and answers create class interest.
  • With a skillful leader, discussion can cover a great deal of ground.


  • It tends to present the topic in an unsystematic manner.
  • It may be difficult to control the time used by each panelist.
  • Many questions may be left only partially answered.
  • It requires the use of panel members who are articulate and can think quickly.

The Symposium

A Symposium is more formal and less spontaneous than a panel discussion. It is an activity in which several speakers present various aspects of an issue or problem.


  • A variety of knowledge and experience can be presented.
  • Changing speakers and breaking up the time helps hold the attention of the class.
  • It creates interest, especially if the topic is controversial.
  • It encourages more class involvement than a lecture.


  • It may not provide thorough coverage of the topic.
  • It may consist only of opinions if participants are not well prepared.
  • It can handle only one major issue.

The teacher has a very important role to play in any classroom discussion.
The teacher has a very important role to play in any classroom discussion.

The Instructor’s Role in Organized Discussions

One’s first responsibility as an instructor is that of guiding the group in selecting a topic for the discussion. Thus, it usually evolves from the ongoing work of the class. The instructor will have to guide topic selection, but the group should feel that they participated in the process and that the topic is relevant to their needs and interests.

As the discussion begins, the instructor should lead off by introducing the topic to be discussed, the general limits of the topic to be discussed, the general limits of the topic, and the time schedule agreed on.

As the discussion progresses, the instructor should attempt to establish a free and friendly atmosphere, in which contributions can be made without fear and all students have an equal opportunity to participate. Some situations may develop, however, in the course of a class discussion that can be difficult to handle. The following list addresses some potential problems and suggests some possible solutions to these problems.

  • Everyone wants to talk at once, threatening general chaos—this is usually a sign of high interest and may be controlled by simply holding up a restraining hand, pointing to the next speaker, or acknowledging another speaker by a nod.
  • No one wants to start talking at all—you can usually solve this by asking a provocative question or calling on a knowledgeable and articulate student.
  • One student may want to monopolize the discussion or shout down opposing views—a reminder that others deserve an equal opportunity to speak may be all that is necessary to control this.
  • Two students may become really angry with each other—topics that involve emotional issues, such as personal freedom vs. loyalty to an employer or liberal vs. conservative farm policy, may cause stress. In this situation, you must be very tactful—perhaps diverting the topic to a neutral point, ignoring the combatants, or making light of the problem with a bit of deft humor.

In Conclusion

As the discussion draws to a close, the instructor needs to help the class come to some conclusions. Sometimes, when the problem is solved, the discussion may close itself. When there is nothing more that can be said, you may close the discussion. When the discussion leads to several solutions, you may need to pull it together and help the class to come to some consensus or majority opinion.

Finally, the instructor may present an evaluation of the performance of the class in conducting the discussion and suggest ways in which the next discussion session might be improved.

Fostering Discussion Groups

Do you set aside time for classroom discussions?

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© 2014 Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS


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