Convincing Evidence that Teacher Centred Instruction is More Effective Than Hands-On Pupil Centered Lessons.

This is a very short summary of a research paper published by Nature last December: A RCT for assessment of active human-centred learning finds teacher-centric non-human teaching of evolution optimal (Buchan, Hejmadi, Abrahams et al. 2020).

Despite the uninspiring title, the authors provide a rare thing: convincing evidence that one approach is more effective than another. The authors found that year 6 pupils taught evolution in year 6 through teacher centred approach outperformed those who we given a hands-on pupil centred approach.

The authors also found that the example organisms mattered, Pupils taught in the context of a human-like fossil hand performed less well than pupils taught in the context of a trilobite.

Pupils taught using teacher-centred instruction out performed pupils taught using pupil-centred approach.

This finding strongly supports other evidence favouring teacher-directed learning over more child-centred approaches (e.g. here). If you want your pupils to catch up as quickly as possible, stand at the front of the class and teach.,

If you’d like to hear me explain more about the paper, I’ve videoed a short (7:30min) talk.

If you’d like to read the paper itself (which I recommend) look here.


Buchan, L., Hejmadi, M., Abrahams, L. et al. A RCT for assessment of active human-centred learning finds teacher-centric non-human teaching of evolution optimal. npj Sci. Learn. 5, 19 (2020).


  1. Thanks for taking the time to post this blogpost and making the video, Ben. It is certainly an interesting paper but I have to say that my first thought when reading the abstract was to wonder why the authors that the human hand would be inherently more ‘human-centred’ and therefore more interesting/relevant than the trilobite. That seems a very literal interpretation of the idea of human interest, especially for primary school age pupils. My immediate second thought was that, given this unusual assumption, what similar assumptions might have informed the specific teaching methodology that was used in the two cases of ‘teacher-centric’ and ‘pupil-centric’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andy – I agree I think – I don’t care all that much about the fossil-hand / trilobite example. I’m much more interested in the pupil-centred vs teacher-centred question. A significant amount of primary science curriculum time is dedicated to hands-on activities. If these are less effective than other approaches, then we need to take note. Their flavour of teacher-centred is different to my preferred approach but the evidence supporting teachers leading the learning is pretty robust – this just adds to it.


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