The Most Important Instructional Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 24, 2021

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Education is not easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need the vast networks of support that ensure effective learning. As a student or a trainee, you can appreciate this from the community of teachers, instructors, online resources, and more that aid in your development. However, on the other side of that community, those who instruct are just as challenged by the process.

These challenges must be appreciated because at some point in your career trajectory you will need instructional skills. Teachers and other educators need strong instructional skills, but so do managers, customer service representatives, technical writers, business communicators, and many more groups of professionals.

Whether it is towards a fellow employee, an investor, or a customer, there will be moments where your ability to teach determines the success of your job.

In a meeting, you may be asked to explain how a project will be enacted. On the phone, you may need to walk a customer through a service process. In a job interview, you may need to contextualize your skills to an unfamiliar audience.

Instruction is a common part of the workplace where others will rely on your knowledge and explanations to achieve some goal. When these situations arise, great instruction leads to better results. People will appreciate this, especially when it saves them time.

Your ability to instruct reflects your other professional qualities. It shows that you are organized, knowledgeable, and an effective communicator. Therefore, you should make sure your instructional skills are well developed. The best way to do this is with a diverse set of tools that can be used based on the situation at hand.

You first need to know what options you have and when to use them. Luckily, there are many techniques out there. The right instructional strategy can help you understand your audience with an approach that targets their needs.

What Is an Instructional Strategy?

An instructional strategy is any type of technique an instructor uses to effectively educate their audience. This relies on the successful communication of necessary information. An instructor knows they have done their job when their audience independently understands the material and no longer needs the instructor’s help.

An instructional strategy is how the instructor approaches the topic and determines what methods they will use. A great instructor will have a wide knowledge of strategies and know when they are most effective. Different topics require different approaches based on the learning styles of the audience and the format of the subject matter.

Consider your audience and their needs to decide which instructional strategy is most appropriate. When you pick the right one they will be able to achieve their goals thanks to your critical role and your professional value will rise.

Finally, understand that your choice of instructional strategies can and should change based on the situation. Your audience may appreciate different strategies. Just because one strategy is preferable, it doesn’t mean that other strategies won’t help. If you have the time and space, mix in different strategies to reinforce and expand your message.

Instructional Strategies

The better prepared you are to instruct, the better likelihood of success. The following are some of the most helpful instructional strategies that educators use. This is not an exhaustive list, because there are many strategies and resources out there.

However, these are some of the more common due to their effectiveness:

  1. Lecture. Lectures are probably the first thing you think of when it comes to instructional activities. The lecture, the direct explanation of a topic from an instructor towards their audience, is good for situations where new information needs to be explained. A lecture provides context and step-by-step guidance.

    However, due to their one-sided nature, lectures risk losing the interest of the audience. The best lectures are ones where the instructor is passionate about the subject. This passion leads to a more interesting presentation and can be supplemented by other instructional strategies.

  2. Visualization. Some people learn better through visuals, especially those whose native language may not be the same as the instructor. This is one reason why graphics are so necessary for instruction manuals. Visuals help simplify the topic and engage the brain differently.

    Descriptive language does not always make the same impact. Use visualizations to help break up a lecture or series of text. Visuals also help with retention. A visual aide can activate the audience’s memory when the time comes for them to perform independently.

  3. Drill and practice. Sports teams are famous for the drill and practice method. This is a strategy that focuses on breaking information into small tasks that can be repeatedly tested. Some concepts may require repetitive practice such as calculating equations or performing quality assurance on a product.

    Drill and practice should only be used when repetition is appropriate and the goal is to achieve either muscle memory or else proves that a system is functioning. Drill and practice does not build critical thinking and so it can not be expected to solve more complex instructional requirements.

  4. Inquiries. The inquiry instructional strategy uses questions to provoke the minds of the audience. As an instructor, you want to ask open-ended questions that can lead to a variety of answers. This is true for objective questions with the right answers or subjective questions that allow for the audience’s interpretation.

    The inquiry method engages the audience to think for themselves. For an inquiry to be successful, the audience must have a fundamental understanding of the topic.

    As an instructor, you want to make sure that you provide the support necessary to ask pertinent questions. This includes setting expectations that meet the educational level of your audience.

  5. Case studies. You can use past experiences to teach about present topics. A case study is a detailed examination of any real-world situation that provides an in-depth analysis of its causes and effects. They explore certain behaviors or results relevant to the topic.

    Case studies are helpful for instructors because they provide a relatable context to their audience. While the topic discussed may be abstract, a case study shows how it can exist in reality. For many, this helps ground what they learn to more practical applications.

  6. Role-playing. Some topics are better understood when they are acted out. Role-playing is a form of experiential learning that places the audience into a simulated environment that requires them to use what they were taught. This is especially helpful for topics that are based on interaction.

    A common form of role-playing occurs in CPR instructional sessions where it is not enough to be lectured on the material to be certified. You must demonstrate to the instructor that you can perform in real-time. Role-playing is also helpful for those who prefer to learn through actions because it gives them a chance to practice their skills.

  7. Experiment. Experiments are good for instructional topics that can be observed and tested independently by the audience. With an experiment, the audience can see for themselves and analyze the results. An experiment also gives the audience a chance to use critical thinking skills that reinforce independent learning.

    The interactive aspect of an experiment keeps the audience engaged and requires them to do the necessary work. Still, the instructor should provide the right resources that ensure data will be collected. Even if the experiments do not provide the predicted results, the information gained can be used for further discussion.

  8. Group activities. Another classic instructional strategy that you probably remember from school, group activities that break up the audience. A group activity builds an environment where each member of the group has the opportunity to teach and learn from one another.

    The results are then shared with the rest of the audience. Group activities are another good way to incorporate interactive engagement during instruction.

    However, as an instructor, you must make sure the groups understand the topic enough to be able to work independently. Groups can quickly get off topic if their assignment does not constructively challenge them. Members of a good group activity should come away feeling they gained something in their work with others.

  9. Question and answer. Either in verbal or written form, a question-and-answer strategy creates a dialogue between the instructor and their audience. Questions can be open-ended like inquiries or they can be repetitive like in drill and practice. The question and answer strategy can also be incorporated in other ways.

    Written questions like in a quiz can be used to recollect and expand upon the instructional topic. This allows the instructor to gauge the knowledge of their audience.

  10. Computer and technology assistance. There is no reason to ever go it alone as an instructor these days. The internet alone provides a vast wealth of educational resources that you can use to instruct.

    Supplemental material such as videos can provide helpful information. Websites can provide online experiments and tests that are accessible to your audience.

    Computers and technology can be used for lectures, group discussions, and independent learning. In any case, your choice of technology will add diversity to your instructional strategy which will help maintain engagement.

  11. Mix and match. There is no one size fits all secret to instructional strategy. Every situation is likely to be different. That is why it is so important to know about the different methods of approach. Within even one instructional activity you can incorporate different strategies to maximize this diversity.

    For example, imagine you are a project manager and you need to instruct your team on a new software tool. You could begin the meeting with a brief overview and then break up your team into groups where they will experiment with the tool.

    Then you could finish the meeting with a question and answer discussion that affirms your team’s understanding.

Final Thoughts

When you have these strategies to work with, you increase your ability to give effective instructions. Regardless of your career, instructional skills make you a better professional.

They show that you know your profession enough that you can communicate its intricacies to others. It is likely you will be challenged at various points to explain yourself and when the situation arises, you want to be ready.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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