Teaching Styles Comparison: High School vs University

As you transition from high school to university, almost everything changes, especially if you are studying in another country. You will be dealing with a new linguistic context (likely), new culture, new setting, and new expectations. At the heart of all of this is the learning experience. Given that you are studying abroad to receive a good education, it is worthwhile to take a moment and look at the differences in the classroom, how your instructors will teach, and what they will expect of you.

Beginning with the disclaimer that neither all high school nor university class are the same, some general differences can be found. For the most part, high school is mandatory in most countries, you are required to be there. Class sizes are usually between 10 and 30 students (depending on the school), and your teacher has a general qualification in the subject. The curriculum your class will follow is broad and designed to cover an entire academic year. As your attendance is required, the teacher’s role focuses on engagement, that is finding ways of creating in you a desire to participate in class activities. This can be through a variety of activities ranging from the didactic to the “hands-on”, with the end goal of “getting you interested” in the subject of the course. Further, the high school teacher will suit these varied activities to accommodate learning differences in the students. This use of “differentiation” helps ensure that all students have the greatest chance of being successful in the course. Lastly, students in high school are usually assessed in two ways, formatively and summatively. A simple definition of formative assessment is monitoring student progress and providing feedback to drive improvement. Summative assessment is determining what a student has learned, generally by quizzes and exams. The situation at university is quite different.

Your attendance at university is optional. You are not compelled to be there. Rather, it is by choice and as such expectations for you are higher. Some new students fall into the trap of ‘skipping’ class, thinking they will catch up later. This is a mistake as once momentum is lost and learning disconnected, it is very hard to access the next phase of learning and keep pace with the your peers. Self discipline is expected at uni, much more than at school.

As a freshman (1st year university student), your lecture classes may have 200 to 300 other students and take place in a huge hall. Your instructor is a specialist in their field and will usually have a doctorate or a master’s degree. The courses generally are more focused on a narrow topic, and will be of shortened duration-usually a semester or possibly a trimester. It is the role of the professor to convey the information you need efficiently and as quickly as is reasonably possibly. Given the number of students in class, this is generally done through out of class readings, and lectures. Assessment is usually summative, with learning measured by means of papers, projects, and exams. These methods may or may not be your preferred manner of learning. As such, you are much more responsible for your learning and your success- through keeping up with the readings and assignments, thoughtful questions in class, and by taking advantage of all the resources available (such as instructor’s office hours, tutors, or study groups).

You are a young adult. It is time to take responsibility for your own life and learning.

Does this mean that the teaching methods found in high schools are better than those at university? Not necessarily, though high school instruction is certainly much more individualized. To be fair, in both cases, your instructors do want you to succeed. However, in university the expectations are higher. Seats at a university are limited, and even though you have worked hard and are qualified to be there, it is also a privilege which should be taken seriously.

Understanding what is expected, and doing what is required to be successful are the core of your role as a student and young adult.

Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023

Author: Kenneth Knox