Journal of Instructional Science and Technology
ISSN: 1324-0781

Editors-in-Chief: Olugbemiro JEGEDE ( and Som NAIDU(

Volume 1 No 1, October 1995
- - - Article 3 - - -

A Comparison of Teaching Models in the West and in China


Zhang Ji-Ping
Department of Educational Information Technology
East China Normal University, China

Betty Collis, Ph.D.
Faculty of Educational Science and Technology
University of Twenty, Netherlands

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[ Abstract | Models of Teaching and their Applications | Understanding More about Teaching Models | Taxonomies of Teaching Models | Conceptsfor Describing the Models | Comparing Western and ChineseModels of Teaching | Conclusion | References ]


Models of teaching commonly used in the West and in China are analyzed and compared,using an analytical approach that systematically considers different aspects of themodels. The purpose of the exploration is three-fold: (a) to create better understandingof both Chinese and Western models, for mutual insight and to strengthen the developmentof pedagogical theory building in China; (b) to guide a joint project between theNetherlands and China relative to the development computer-related learning resources forChina; and (c) to contribute to better overall understanding of how instructionalresources can be adapted for use in both Western and Chinese situations. The analysisprovides a contribution for each of these goals.

Models of Teaching and their Applications

A model is not the same as a theory. As Roberts (1978) noted in his review ofprogram-planning models, "A model of instructional design may also be the result of acomponent-testing or theory-building process, in which case the construction of the modelis built on weak theory or no theory at all" (p. 7). Brady (1985) in describing thenature of models has also pointed out "The models are guides to the preparation andimplementation of teaching, and not highly developed theories" (p. 11). We think itwould be not enough for a teacher to know only one or two teaching models, becauseeducation has so many different types of approach and context. A thorough knowledge of anumber of models could lead to greater teacher flexibility and efficiency. Understandingof several models could facilitate the ability to adapt those models or to combine themwith others, and offer valuable approaches that enrich a teacher's repertoire.

All the above descriptions lead to the conclusion that the study of teaching models isa very powerful way to explore educational issues related to teaching strategies,pedagogical and curricular design, instructional materials and learning sources, and eventhe design of learning environments. In this article, we try to discuss several teachingmodels which represent typical approaches to teaching in the West and in China throughdescribing and summarizing major characteristics of those models. Our intention for thishas the following three main aspects: (a) to understand more about teaching models, (b) toguide a joint project concerning the development of learning resources appropriate forChinese education, and (c) to contribute to the portability of computer-relatededucational resources between the West and China. We next discuss these three aspects.

Understanding More about Teaching Models

Finding out both similarities and differences in teaching models typical to Western andChinese educators can help us better understand each individual model's characteristicsand functions. It is particularly important for Chinese educators to learn more aboutteaching strategies and methods, pedagogical theory, and study approaches and to develop atheoretical basis for teaching models, strengthened from an analysis of these Westernmodels, because China in its move toward more openness is facing educational reform whichhas been called a base of the nation's development and modernization realization.

Presently the Government of China has often argued forcefully that the nation's goal ofmodernization rests in part on education and its reform, and the improvement of thecountry's education depends on teachers and teaching methods. Paine (1992) has pointedout:

In China today, the scale of technical problems combined with the desired pace ofeducational, social and economic reform give added urgency to the call to revamp teachingmethods (p. 184).

Taxonomies of Teaching Models

In order to compare Western and Chinese teaching models, it is necessary, althoughdifficult and complicated to fully work out, to have a system for classification ofteaching models and conceptual descriptions of each model. This will lead researchinvolving teaching models in a more systematic and scientific way than would occur withoutsuch a classification, and make it convenient for Western and Chinese educators toexchange and communicate ideas in this domain. According to Joyce and Weil's definitionsand classifications for teaching models (1992), four families of teaching models (at leastfor Western circumstances) can be defined, together describing a classification based ondifferent orientations toward man and his universe. The four are:

1. Social Family; Oriented toward social relations and the relation between manand his culture and drawing upon social sources. The range of models in this familyincludes those which focus more on the comparatively simple processes of organizingstudents to work together, and those more complicated models that base themselves ondemocratic social organization and the analysis of major social problems and criticalsocial values and issues. "When we work together we generate a collective energy thatwe call `synergy'. The social models of teaching are constructed to take advantage of thisphenomenon by building learning communities" (Joyce & Weil, 1992, p. 5).

2. Information-Processing Family; Models in this family share an orientationtoward the information-processing capabilities of the learner and to environments that canbe organized for him so as to improve his capacity for information processing. The modelsin this family emphasize "Ways of enhancing the human being's innate drive to makesense of the world by acquiring and organizing data, sensing problems and generatingsolutions to them, and developing concepts and language for conveying them" (Joyce& Weil, 1992, p. 7). Of course, some models from this family are also concerned withsocial relationships and overlap with those from the above category, "SocialFamily" or the next category, "Personal Family".

3. Personal Family; This cluster of personal-family models focuses on theindividual as the source of educational growth and pays great attention to personaldevelopment and the processes by which the individual constructs and organizes hisreality. In other words, it is student-centred and students are taught to take charge ofthemselves in learning, and in life. As Joyce and Weil (1992) pointed out "They (thePersonal family models) attempt to shape education so that we come to understand ourselvesbetter, take responsibility for our education, and learn to reach beyond our currentdevelopment to become stronger, more sensitive, and more creative in our search forhigh-quality lives" (p. 9). Personal models can also be related to the development ofsocial relations and to the individual's information processing capacity.

4. Behavioural System Family; This family attempts to built efficientenvironments for sequencing activities and for shaping behaviour by manipulatingreinforcement. These models were guided and developed from an analysis of the processes bywhich human behaviour is shaped and reinforced, and are based on behaviour modification,behaviour therapy, and cybernetics theories. The major emphasis of behavioural theory isthe changing of the learner's observable behaviour. These models can usually be used inmost educational settings. As Joyce and Weil (1992) note "Because these modelsconcentrate on observable behaviour and clearly defined tasks and methods forcommunicating progress to the student, this family of teaching models has a very largefoundation of research. Behavioural techniques are amenable to learners of all ages and toan impressive range of educational goals" (p. 11).

Concepts for Describing the Models

Because models, whether Western or Chinese, could come from many different sources andbe expressed by many kinds of approaches, it is necessary not only to indicate whichfamily of models a model belongs, but also to have a format for describing each model asexplicitly as possible. Joyce and Weil (1992) have also developed "four concepts todescribe the operations of the model itself as a way of communicating the basic proceduresinvolved in implementing any instructional model" (p. 14). These concepts involve adescription of the model in terms of its characteristic environments. The four conceptsused by Joyce and Weil are the model's syntax, social system, principles of reaction,and support system. We will use these concepts to describe some main teaching modelswhich are popularly used in Western countries and others which are commonly used incontemporary China. The following definitions of the four description concepts are mainlytaken from Joyce and Weil (1992, pp.14-15).


The syntax of the model involves a description of the model in action. For example, ifa teacher were to use the model as the basis for his strategy, what kinds of activitieswould he use? How does he begin? What happens next? The description of syntax is normallyin terms of sequences of activities called phases. Hence, each model has a distinct flowof phases.

Social system

The social system describes student and teacher roles and the hierarchicalrelationships and the kind of norms that are encouraged based on these roles. Of course,the way of the teacher manifests leadership will vary greatly from model to model. One wayto describe a model of teaching is in terms of the degree of structure in the socialrelationships that take place in the learning environment. That is, we can classify modelsas highly structured, more-or-less structured, or relatively unstructured.

Principles of reaction

Principles of reaction help the teacher respond to what the learner does. They can helpteachers select the reactions they will have in their interaction with the students andprovide them with guidelines by which they can better tune in to the learner and selectmodel-appropriate responses to what the student does.

Support system

This concept describes not the model itself so much as the supporting conditionsnecessary for its existence. What support is needed in order to create the environmentspecified by a model? That is, what are the additional requirements beyond the usual humanskills and capacities, and technical facilities? Suppose a model postulates that studentsshould teach themselves and that the roles of teachers should be limited to consultationand facilitation. What support is necessary? Certainly a classroom filled only withtextbooks would be limiting and prescriptive. Rather, support in the form of books, films,self-instructional systems, travel arrangements, and the like is necessary.

Western Models

Joyce and Weil (1980) have identified more than 23 models in their four basic families(see the previous section) as well as a number of "models for thinking aboutmodels". Based on their viewpoints and definitions of teaching and learning, most ofthe models fell into the information-processing family, although some of them could beconsidered personal models and some overlap with other families. There is little value intrying to describe and compare all the teaching models existing in the West and in China,but it is helpful to describe and compare some models that are most illustrative ofdifferent subgroupings with the overall set of models. In the following section, we willselect six Western models supported by analysis in (Joyce & Weil, 1992) and describethem according to the four families and concepts mentioned above. The six Western modelsare: Group Investigation (Social family), Advance Organizer (Information-Processingfamily), Inquiry Training (Information-Processing family), Nondirective Teaching (Personalfamily), Self-Control model (Behavioural family), and Simulation model (Behaviouralfamily). We describe them in comparative detail in order to facilitate later comparisonwith Chinese models.

Chinese Models

In order to adapt education to the development of social and economic reform, manyChinese educators are today paying attention to the study of teaching models and havedeveloped some teaching models themselves, as an exploration of educational theory andpractice. The development of Chinese models of teaching has normally stemmed from threeaspects: learning from other countries, particularly Russia and America; analyzing Chineseteaching experiences; and combining available models from outside with their own approachto teaching. He we select and describe six Chinese teaching models that are mainly basedon Chinese educators' own teaching experiences and are commonly used in China today. Wewill call the six Chinese teaching models: Delivery - Receive (Information-Processingfamily), Self-Learning - Guided (Personal family), Buide - Discover(Information-Processing family), Circumstances - Mold (Social family), Demonstration -Imitation (Behavioural family), and Collective Teaching model (Social family).

Comparing Western and Chinese Models of Teaching

The comparison of teaching models is a more difficult task than the description of themindividually, because the different models have different purposes or areas ofconcentration. Also it is impossible to say one model is superior to others. As Maker(1982) pointed out, "No comparative research indicates which models may be moreappropriate than others" (p. 452), and "no one model is regarded as superior toothers, ... and no single model can realise the multiplicity of school and subjectobjectives" (Brady, 1985, p. 11). We think the goal of comparison is not to reach aconclusion that one model is better than another, but to find out the similarities anddifferences among the models, which can serve as guideline when selecting or adapting ateaching model (or models) for instructional use.

The first step in comparing models should be to offer a framework which identifiesrelative aspects of comparison. We have developed a framework focussing on four aspects,involving different items appropriate for a comparison among teaching models. The fourare: Teacher Aspects, Student Aspects, Aspects relating to Degree of Flexibility orAdaptability of the models, and Aspects related to Effective Theoretical and TechnologicalSupports. Following are some specific questions for each aspect that can be used in acomparison of teaching models.

Teacher Aspects

  1. How easily can the model be managed by the average teacher?
  2. To what extent does the model save teaching time (including preparation time for the lesson)?
  3. How likely is it that the model will be accepted and used by the average teacher?
  4. To what extent does the model give full play to the teacher's professional knowledge or skill?

Student Aspects

  1. How much initiative is given to students within the model?
  2. How adaptable is the model to individual differences in the students?
  3. How well can the model be adapted for students of different ages?
  4. How well can the model be adapted for different sorts of learning goals?

Flexibility to the Situation

  1. How easily can the model be adapted to the present organizational system in the school and to the current standards for student evaluation followed by the school?
  2. Can the model be well adapted to a variety of subject disciplines?
  3. How easily can the model be combined with other models?
  4. To what extent is the model adaptable to cultural expectations for student and teacher behaviour?

Theoretical and Technological Supports

  1. Was the model developed using an appropriate theory?
  2. How much research and evidence are available to show the model is internally valid?
  3. In what ways might the model be well supported by new technologies and media?
  4. Are the technologies and media most suitable to the model readily available?

Analysis of Set of Ratings

Based on these completed worksheets, we can do some general comparisons with respect todifferent aspects among the models. For example, we can compare the teacher aspects withstudent aspects, flexibility aspects with supports aspects, student aspects withflexibility aspects, or the teacher/student aspects (human side) with flexibility/supportsaspects (conditions side) of a model. However, since the judgment for each item issubjective and global, the comparison can only be viewed as a reference when selecting oradapting a teaching model for instructional use. Each user must interpret the ratingsrelative to the perceptions of his own culture.

Let us take an example to see how we worked the subjective judgments out. The examplewe will choose is the Group Investigation model (GI) from the Western model cluster. Itshould be, of course, clear that the GI model, although its total rating is the highest,does not necessarily become the best model. In the Student and Flexibility aspects, twoitems got a rating of 2 ( good fit); they are "How well can the model be adapted forstudents of different ages?" and "Can the model be well adapted to a variety ofdisciplines?". Why did we give these two items the rating of "good" fit?The answer could be based on following descriptions: "The GI model is highlyversatile and comprehensive; it blends the goals of academic inquiry, social integration,and social process learning. It can be used in all subject areas, with all agelevels" (Joyce & Weil, 1992, p. 51). In the Supports aspects, the GI model hasalso obtained two ratings of "good" for two questions; "Was the modeldeveloped using an appropriate theory?" and "How much research and evidence areavailable to show the model is internally valid?". As Joyce and Weil (1992) indicate"Important for us is the question of whether cooperative groups do in fact generatethe energy that results in improved learning. The evidence is largely affirmative ... wehave observed successful group-investigation teachers in a context in which othersubjects, such as math and reading, are carried out in a more structured, teacher-directedfashion"(p. 48). Sharan and Shaulov (1990) and Sharan, Slavin, and Davidson (1990)have also studied group investigation, and have developed considerable insight into how tomake the dynamics of such a model work as well as its effects on cooperative behaviour,intergroup relations, and lower- and higher-order achievement.

Comparison Among the Models

As a further example, we refer to the broader comparison in regard to theteacher/student aspects (human side) with the flexibility/supports aspects (conditionsside) between the Western and Chinese models. We think these two sides can virtuallyreflect the real substance of a teaching model. The human side can be viewed as the actiontarget of instruction, which means that the teacher and student are the main players. Inother words, the teaching model will be empty if there are no teachers or students. Theconditions side can be considered as the external considerations which can indicate thedegree to which a teaching model can be adapted for current external environments andconditions. A good model, in general, should be able to be well matched with the externalenvironments and conditions.

The coordinate is divided into four quadrants named I, II, III, and IV. The verticaldirection of the coordinate grid represents the human side and the horizontal is theconditions side. The maximum possible rating for each side is 16. In general, it can besaid that the model is more adapted to the human side if a model falls in Quadrant I.Similarly, it is more adapted to the external environments and conditions if the modelfalls in Quadrant IV. If a model is located in Quadrant II, it can be considered as welladapted to both dimensions and may be the most desirable model. Based on the summary ofsubtotal fit we can locate all models in their grid relative to their human and conditionscoordinates.


The comparison of teaching models in the West and in China has been little undertakenand there are very few articles in the literature relating to this issue. Our primary goalfor this study was to help Western and Chinese educators to better understand each other'sapproaches to teaching, through the creation of a framework to concisely compare theindividual characteristics and functions of teaching models from the West and China. Wethink our approach offers a useful contribution for such a comparison. Our second purposefor the analysis was more personal, to create a theoretical framework for our own researchproject, relating to the adaptability of computer-related learning environments todifferent teaching methods in the West and in China. From the analysis we have a basis forhypothesizing this adaptability. Such a basis is also a contribution to our third purpose-- to contribute to portability research relating to learning resources. We realize ourratings relative to the fit of the models are subjective; we hope they will stimulatecritical discussion, in that such discussion will further support our main goal -- inincrease in insight and familiarity with teaching methods from a cross-culturalperspective.


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