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Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is one of many methods for educational instruction. In this article, you can learn more about what direct instruction is and the different types of direct instruction used in classroom instruction.

Direct instruction is both a general term and a specific teaching approach. As a general term, it refers to instruction of novices that is guided by an expert. As a specific approach, Direct Instruction (DI) is a teaching model created by Siegfried Engelmann, Dr. Wesley Becker, and their colleagues. It is based on a teacher who has understanding of or expertise in an area providing instruction to students in a clear and orderly fashion so that students master the material.

How does direct instruction fit into the field of education? This article explores that very question.

A More Detailed Understanding of Direct Instruction

Direct instruction relies on a model of an expert passing on expert knowledge, concepts, approaches, and skills. Instruction is structured and guided in this model, which uses a student’s ability to generalize from a set of chosen facts and tasks to new examples about which they have not received specific instruction.

Another aspect of direct instruction is helping students learn material to the point at which it becomes automatic. The approach of direct instruction is not, however, as one might assume, heavily reliant on lectures, but on students working through the set tasks in the set order. In addition, the model does not preclude group work nor independent work by students.

Different Models of Instruction

Direct instruction it is not the only educational approach. Here are some of the others. Note that there is some overlap of ideology and methodology between and among them.

  • Constructivist Instruction This approach emphasizes learning through problem solving and students constructing their own knowledge base, rather than receiving information from an instructor or text. Students are encouraged to construct meaning after experiencing planned activities and situations.
  • Discovery Instruction This approach suggests that students find for themselves what is important for them to know in a process of discovery guided by the teacher.
  • Problem-Based Learning This approach presents students with real and/or realistic problem situations, on the assumption that these are more engaging than contrived classroom exercises, and has them apply critical thinking skills to address the dilemma.
  • Experiential Instruction Based on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), this approach sees learning occur in four modes that interact: experience, critical reflection, active experimentation, and abstract conceptualization. 

Some of these models are connected with the quotation, “A child is a lamp to be lit, not a vessel to be filled.”

  • Inquiry-Based This approach invites students to act as scientists, using the scientific method to identify a problem or question, formulate a hypothesis and use it to make predictions, test the hypothesis through an experiment or study, check and analyze the results, and report the results in an appropriate forum.

This last method is strongly associated with instruction in the sciences and the advancement of scientific knowledge.


Though proponents of direct instruction often critique other methods en masse, there is good reason to believe that a variety of instructional approaches have their place in the teacher’s repertoire. There is research, for example, that shows that self-directed play activities are essential to children’s learning.

On the other hand, research also demonstrates that - due to the inherent structures of human knowledge as we know it, the differences between experts and novices, and the demands of cognition - unguided or minimally guided instruction  proved to be “consistently” inferior in effectiveness and efficiency to instructional approaches in which learners are guided, such as direct instruction.

However, the research also shows that as the learner’s prior knowledge of the topic and situation increase, the comparative benefits of guided instruction, such as direct instruction, compared with the less guided approaches, is diminished.


National Institute For Direct Instruction -

University of Georgia: Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology: Problem Based Instruction by Evan Glazer -

Experiential Learning by Chris Oxendine, James Robinson, and Ginger Wilson -

Center for Inquiry-based Learning (CIBL) -

Center for Disease Control: Steps of the scientific method -

University of Oregon: Center for Applied Research in Education: The Direct Instruction Model for Middle School: What is Direct Instruction? -

“Child-Directed Teaching Methods: A Discriminatory Practice of Western Education” -

University of Southern California: Institute for Creative Technologies: “Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching” by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E. Clark. -