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The Learning Institute

Staff research

Articles written by The Learning Institute staff

How humanistic is our pedagogical approach in Higher Education? 

It is argued that Higher Education teachers are in need of an upgraded toolkit of teaching strategies and skills (Correia and Navarrete, 2017), due to the fact of engaging with a wide range of students who differ in age, gender, race, ethnicity, academic and socioeconomic backgrounds, not to mention an increase in mental health issues and/or disability needs (Smith, 1989; Gurin et al., 2002; Brown, 2004). Meeting the needs, expectations and diversities of this group has been regarded as a challenge for universities today. It seems reasonable to think that whatever strategies universities implement to deal with this challenge, teachers should be an integral part of the planning and implementation (Lazerson et al. 2000). From my experience in HE, I believe that TLI tutors would mainly fall into the category of humanistic educators (Feshbach and Feshbach, 2009). By this I mean,

"The tutor or lecturer tends to be more supportive than critical, more understanding than judgmental, more genuine than playing a role." Their job is to foster an engaging environment for the students and ask inquiry-based questions that promote meaningful learning.

Humanistic education has its roots in Renaissance philosophy which emphasised the study of the humanities and reflects Rogers (1965) therapeutic perspectives (Feshbach and Feshbach, 2009). This perspective theorises the more communicative and understanding the teacher is with their students, the greater the bond between students and teachers becomes (Rogers, 1969). Similarly, research carried out in the 1970s and 80s, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health over a 12-year period, focused on what led to achievement. The conclusions corroborated the earlier findings of Carl Rogers' that the more effective teachers were in being empathic, caring for, or praising their students, authentic or genuine in their classroom presence, resulted in more student creativity, more student thinking and interactivity and both teacher and student satisfaction. A number of contemporary school movements incorporate humanistic perspectives within a larger, holistic context: these include the Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and neo-humanist schools.

Interestingly, the notion of Executive Functioning has been extensively linked to academic success (Meltzer, 2007) as well as professional performance in some highly demanding contexts (Stavrakaki et al., 2012). Therefore, although prior evidence suggests that EF might be an important factor behind teacher effectiveness, there seems to be a paucity of evidence exploring this relationship in HE. Similarly, humanistic pedagogy seems to be intrinsically linked to the qualities that align with EF in relation to teachers’ effectiveness which seems auspicious. Therefore, I believe, further empirical efforts need to be made in HE to explore EF and its position within humanistic pedagogy.



Correia, R. and Navarrete, G. (2017) 'Social cognition and executive functions as key factors for effective pedagogy in Higher Education', Frontiers in Psychology, 8 (2016), pp. 1-5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02016

Feshbach, N. and Feshbach, S. (2009) 'Empathy and education' in Decety, J. and Ickes, W. (eds.) The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 85–98. doi:10.7551/mitpress/9780262012973.003.0008.

Lazerson, M., Wagener, U. and Shumanis, N. (2000) 'What makes a revolution? Teaching and learning in higher education, 1980-2000', Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 32 (3), pp. 12–19. doi:10.1080/00091380009601731.

Smith, D. (1989) The Challenge of Diversity: Involvement or Alienation in the Academy? ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 5. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2020)

Stavrakaki, S., Megari, K., Kosmidis, M. H., Apostolidou, M. and Takou, E. (2012) 'Working memory and verbal fluency in simultaneous interpreters', Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 34 (6), pp. 624–633. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2012. 667068.

Meltzer, L. (2007) Executive Function in Education. New York: The Guilford Press.