3C Approach for Instruction

Educational change is occurring all over the world. Some educators are intrinsically interested in a paradigm shift to challenge the traditional views of learning. Others are invited to take part in professional development and collaborate within their institutions to make the change to happen (Butler, Schnellert & MacNeil, 2015). And some are trying to hang on to all the changes presented to their work environment.

At best the focus in education is moving towards supporting students’ individual  learning processes,  rather than emphasizing teaching. The importance of information delivery is just a tiny part of the whole teaching-learning interaction cycle (the other parts are feedback, assessment and transfer; sometimes also evaluation for external stakeholders). Receiving information to be learned is just the beginning of the learning process!

Teaching and learning are two separate processes. We shouldn’t try to discuss them as one process, but acknowledge the interaction between the two. In order to improve instruction, we need to know how learning happens. In other words, rather than assuming that it is the professor’s or teacher’s job to impart wisdom to students who will somehow magically absorb it, the focus is in the instructor’s ability to guide the students into building a knowledge base of their own.  Working with students’ need to know makes learning and teaching much more meaningful.

An important part of the 21st century teaching is asking non-googlable questions and emphasizing applications of learning over reproducing given answers. Students need to learn HOW to think instead of being taught WHAT to think. There is more information (and misinformation) available than ever before in the history of humankind and students need to be prepared to find the important information they need. This supports students’ own interests and curiosity, too. Understanding how students think, how to motivate them, and the importance of social context has been recognized by American Psychological Association (APA, 2015).

3C Approach is built on learner-centered and learning-centered educational practice, hence belonging to the humanist-constructivist paradigm, where knowledge construction is considered to be personal, situational, and contextual.

C1 – Cognitive approach makes teaching and learning easy and effective. Viewing learning as a student-centered and dynamic process where learners are active participants, it strives to understand the reasons behind behavioral patterns. Instruction focuses on application and transfer of the learning, supporting and building students’ higher order thinking skills. Learning strategies and metacognitive skills are discussed frequently, because this helps students to understand how to best support their own learning and what is needed for becoming successful in learning and life. Instructors provide graphic organizers and models, and discuss the hierarchy of the concepts in the learning material to support the transfer.

C2 – Constructive practice emphasizes the learning process and students’ need to construct their own understanding. Delivered or transmitted knowledge does not have the same emotional and intellectual value. New learning depends on prior understanding and is interpreted in the context of current understanding, not first as isolated information that is later related to existing knowledge. Constructive learning helps students to understand their own learning process and self-regulate and co-regulate their learning in the classroom and beyond. Regular feedback, self-reflection and joint reflection are important! Teachers individualize their practice and help students to connect new learning to their existing personal knowledge. Self-assessments are a regular practice.

C3 – Cooperative learning is about providing a collaborative environment that supports the learning process. This environment must reflect the relational nature of learning. Therefore, the definition of learning used in 3C-approach follows the words of Illeris, (2003): “an external interaction process between the learner and his or her social, cultural or material environment, and an internal psychological process of acquisition and elaboration” (p. 298).  Cooperative learning environment is inclusive, and designed to make learning enjoyable by providing a variety of different activities. Students learn from each other and engage in collaborative meaning-making. Every student has their own strengths and areas to grow, and growth mindset is openly discussed in the class.

3C practices make instruction easier while also empowering students to move towards autonomous, self-regulated learning, because they focus more on learning than on teaching.

More information about 3Cs can be found at ninacsmith.com and at my Notes.


American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning.

Butler, D. L., Schnellert, L., & MacNeil, K. (2015). Collaborative inquiry and distributed agency in educational change: A case study of a multi-level community of inquiry. Journal of Educational Change16(1), 1-26.

Illeris, K. (2003). Toward a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396-406. doi:10.1080/0260137032000094814

Author: Nina

Deep learning pedagogue, graduate student faculty. Originally from Finland, now living, learning & working in the U S. Passionate about learner agency and providing good quality education to every student.

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