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Learning Styles

Different Teaching Styles

April 18, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Learning Styles

Different Teaching Styles

Although the success of any teacher when trying to influence a student will arise from many factors, it can be assumed that a variety of teaching styles in differing circumstances or situations is likely to be more effective than the use of a single style. But before we continue, let’s define what we mean by the word “Style” (as it applies to a teaching communication).

Style refers to a particular pattern or way of behaving. However, in the context of training perhaps a better definition is that style is a consistent or patterned approach that a teacher may take when communicating with another. At its broadest level many “patterns of behavior” or teaching styles can be described. This includes styles such as friendly, open, warm, directing, coercive and factual. These various styles can be broadly classified into “Push” and “Pull” categories, and this helps us to start classifying different ways in which teaching may therefore occur.

Push Styles of Communication

Push styles of communication are usually relatively fast in delivery and led by the teacher. They are called “push” styles because the fundamental aim is to actively coax, cajole or convince a learner to take information “on-board” or to accept a message.

There are two main push teaching styles that can be adopted:

1. A Directive/Assertive Style

Directive/Assertive style teaching typically implies the use of simple and to-the-point statements or repetition of comments, ideas or particular goals accompanied by supportive non-verbal expressions. It also entails only limited acceptance of the other party’s viewpoint in response to what has been stated.  A Directive/ Assertive style can therefore sometimes create willing compliance rather than independent commitment.

2. A Selling/Promoting Style

Selling/Promoting style teaching often means literally selling the communication goal or outcome by describing it in the most positive terms. This can be done ethically by describing real benefits and advantages of the subject, issue or goal or unethically by distorting the information about the goal to achieve a result on any terms.  The selling/ promoting style often needs a strong sense of trust to succeed and can run the risk of the other party feeling manipulated.

The above two teaching approaches are ‘push’ styles because they are typically exerted pro-actively or initiated by the teacher – that is they are usually presented without invitation by the learner and with the primary aim of seizing the training initiative.

Pull Styles of Communication

Unlike push styles of influence, pull teaching styles seek to draw out the message or issues to be delivered or communicated at a slower, gentler pace.  They are called “pull” styles because the fundamental aim is to primarily listen and respond to the learner (commenting upon their agenda rather than pushing an agenda of the teacher’s own).

There are two main pull styles that can be adopted:

1. An Educative/Expert Style

An Educative or Expert teaching style implies the provision of a message or information to help guide the learner but it is likely to be information about what might be unknown to the other party rather than presented as superior knowledge.  Hence “Did you know that” type of information is often presented as part of the influence case.  In using this style the information usually needs to be relevant and reliable, and typically offered in a quiet, non-directive way.

2. A Passive Involvement Style

A Passive Involvement communication style usually means gently steering the conversation towards a goal or an outcome that has already been identified by the learner, or the receiver, with the teacher simply relating in a supportive way. This style entails considerable listening and paraphrasing and utilizing positive and encouraging language as much as possible (usually with considerably more listening to the learner’s perspective rather than talking).

The above styles are ‘pull’ styles because they are typically exerted re-actively or in a responsive way to the receiver or learner’s needs.

What Constitutes Teaching Style?

We have used the word “style” in the knowledge that most people will be familiar with the term in other applications or uses. For example, we know that people may have a particular “dress style”, “personality style” or “life style” (and understand that there are several very different style types that may be adopted).

When it comes to a teaching communication, we can extend this concept of a particular style (whether it is push or pull) and start to consider what particular patterns of talking or influencing that people may adopt or that we may see in others around us. In most communications, style appears to have two major underlying drivers. These are:

  1. The level of energy that we bring to a teaching communication (encompassing pace, direction, goal or task orientation)
  2. The level of empathy we bring to a teaching communication (encompassing our emotional orientation and level of relationship warmth towards the other party in the communication).

Whilst we may basically suggest that these both run from high to low, in terms of Energy, high often translates into a pace of communication scale running from “fast” to “slow”. And as far as level of empathy is concerned, high often translates into an attitudinal measure running from “Active” to “Passive”.

In fact several factors feed into both of these drivers of energy and empathy (and therefore our teaching style as a whole). These include Pace, Tone, Volume of communication, our attitude and our use of external body language. Each of these factors feed mainly into either the energy or the empathy scale (and in the case of body language into both).


We have two options when we seek to teach others: we can take a self-centered approach and attempt to get the other party to comply with our perspective (and that can work sometimes in the short-term), or we can take a more complex approach and try to gently persuade or help a learner to make their own sense of the issue. Both approaches are appropriate in different circumstances and the effective trainer therefore “flexes” between different teaching styles as often as necessary to meet the needs of their learners.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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