Educational Psychology Interactive: Teaching/Learning Process Model


Citation: Huitt, W. (2003). A transactional framework of the teaching/learning process. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date] from

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Take a moment to brainstorm a little on the reasons you think some students in some classrooms might learn more than students in the same or another classroom. That is, what are the reasons, both within and across classrooms and schools, that you believe research has shown will influence what and how much students learn. As you are thinking, jot these down on a sheet of paper before you go on.

In 1963, John Carroll wrote a seminal article that focused attention on direct observation of classroom behavior of teachers and students. The systematic study of classroom processes thought to influence student achievement as measured on these tests led to an explosion of information about what exactly was going on within America’s classrooms. Prior to that, and to some extent this continues, the major variables were thought to be environmental or qualities of the teachers and students (Coleman et al., 1966; Jencks et al., 1972).

The publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) made it abundantly clear that despite the increased funding for research and subsequent enlargement of the knowledge base of effective classrooms and schools, there were still major concerns with the functioning of the nation’s school system. This was in spite of the fact that the American school system had made significant improvements during the 20th century. For example, more than 75% of its youth graduated from high school in the 1980s, up from less than 10% at the turn of the century (Greene, 2002). By the year 2000 it had risen to 84% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). At the same time the number of college graduates rose from less than 10% in 1960 to over 25% in 2000. This is one indication that the value of schooling is rising in importance.

In the 1980s several researchers developed frameworks and models of the teaching/learning process that summarized much of what was known about increasing test scores (e.g., Cruickshank 1985; Proctor 1984; Squires, Huitt, Segars, 1983). At the same time that researchers were focused on accounting for all the factors related to school achievement, others developed models of effective teacher practice (e.g., Hunter, 1994; Rosenshine, 1995; Slavin, 2003). A major problem that envelops all these frameworks and models is that they focus on improving test scores; yet the public is concerned about students’ character, self-esteem, and social development (Gallup, 1975, 1980). In this regard, the public seems more knowledgeable than the researchers about indicators of adult success in that student achievement, level of education, or measures of academic intelligence account for at best one third of the variance related to adult success (Gardner, 1995; Goleman, 1995). Recent attempts to hold schools, and especially teachers, totally responsible for student achievement presents a problem in that there are multiple factors not under the control of building-level educators that contribute to educational achievement (Huitt, 1999).

The following framework is an attempt to consider most of the possible answers to questions such as: 1) How do students learn?; 2) What should be the focus of learning?; 3) Why do some students learn more than others? According to the framework, the reasons can be classified into four categories.

A Transactional Framework of the Teaching/Learning Process
Context All those factors outside of the classroom that might influence teaching and learning
Input Those qualities or characteristics of teachers and students that they bring with them to the classroom experience
Classroom Processes Teacher and student behaviors in the classroom as well as some other variables such as classroom climate and teacher/student relationships
Output Measures of student learning taken apart from the normal instructional process.


In my opinion, the most important of these categories is the Output category because the variables in the rest of the categories are used to predict or relate to the variables measured in this one. For example, when we ask "How do students learn" or "Why do some students learn more than other students?" we must first be clear about what we mean by "learning." We must also be clear about how we measure learning. Hummel and Huitt (1993) use the term W.Y.M.I.W.Y.G. to emphasize the importance of outcome measures.

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At the present time in this country, when we say "How well or how much has the student learned" we mean "How well has the student done on a standardized measure of student achievement in the basic skills of Reading, Language Arts, and Mathematics?" If we change what we mean by learning (we want to know how much Science or Social Studies students have learned or we want to know if they have developed appropriate social skills) or if we change the particular measure of learning (use the Metropolitan Achievement Test instead of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills), then we may change the important variables that relate to student learning. As we will see, there are a variety of outcomes that are important in today's world (such as cognitive development and character) that are not presently discussed when we talk about student learning. I believe the most important category is Output because once that has been defined it impacts the importance of the variables in the other categories.


The second most important category, at least from the perspective of the educational institution and educational psychology, is the Classroom Processes category. This includes all the variables that would occur in the classroom. There are three subcategories: Teacher Behavior, Student Behavior, Other/Miscellaneous.

The category of Teacher Behavior consists of all the actions a teacher would make in the classroom and incudes three additional subcategories: Planning, Management, and Instruction.

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Planning refers to all of those activities a teacher might do to get ready to interact with students in the classroom. Management refers to controlling student behavior, while instruction refers to actually guiding student learning. There are a variety of specific teacher classroom variables that have been related to student learning. For example, Walberg (1986), in a meta-analysis of teacher effectiveness research found support for the following individual variables:

However, Rosenshine (1995) showed that the approach to instruction labeled direct or explicit instruction was most likely to positively impact on learning as measured by scores on standardized tests of basic skills. Alternatively, changing the desired outcome measure puts the focus on different instructional methods. For example, if the desired outcome is creativity and independence, then open education may be a better alternative (Giaconia & Hedges, 1982). Alternately, if better relationships among diverse students is the goal, the cooperative learning would appear to be the better instructional method (Slavin, 1995). Therefore, it is important to specify desired outcomes and their measures before decisions are made as to the implementation of specific instructional methods.

Given the moderate correlations between teacher behavior and student learning as measured outside the classroom, however, it seems prudent to focus on student behavior within the classroom and the impact that teacher behavior has on that set of variables. Student Behavior includes all of the actions a student would make in the classroom and includes one very important variable (at least in relationship to predicting student achievement on standardized tests) and that is Academic Learning Time (ALT). ALT is defined as "the amount of time students are successfully covering content that will be tested" (Squires, Huitt, Segars, 1983). ALT is a combination of three separate variables: Content Overlap, Involvement, and Success. Content Overlap is defined as "the percentage of the content covered on the test actually covered by students in the classroom" and is sometimes referred to as "Time on Target." Involvement is the "amount of time students are actively involved in the learning process" and is often referred to as "Time on Task." Success is defined as the "extent to which students accurately complete the assignments they have been given."

A high level of Academic Learning Time means that 1) students are covering important (tested/evaluated) content; 2) students are "on-task" most of the class period; and 3) students are successful on most the assignments they complete. These three variables can be relatively easily measured and can be considered the vital signs of a classroom. If all of these are appropriate, there is a high probability that the classroom is functioning well. However, if any one of these variables is lower than expected, further inspection of classroom processes should be undertaken.

There are a variety of other classroom factors which have been related to student achievement such as the classroom climate and the opportunity for students to engage in leadership roles.

One of the most important concepts that has been developed in educational psychology during the past 30 years is that classroom process variables are the most direct link to student achievement (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). More specifically, the teacher's classroom behavior (incorporated in the categories of planning, management and instruction) has a direct influence on student behavior (most importantly, Academic Learning Time) which, in turn, is most directly linked to measures of student achievement.

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The third major category of variables, Input, refers to descriptions of teachers and students prior to their coming into the classroom. There are again two important subcategories: Teacher Characteristics and Student Characteristics. Some important subcategories of teacher characteristics includes the teacher's values and beliefs, knowledge, thinking and communication skills, performance skills, and personality. Of course, there are many more possible subcategories, but these seem to be the most important.

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The most important teacher characteristic (in terms of predicting how well teachers will perform in the classroom as well as student achievement) seems to be the teacher's values and belief or more particularly Teacher Efficacy (Ashton, 1984). This variable is a measure of the teacher's belief that students can learn and that he/she can teach. Another important set of teacher characteristics includes the teacher's knowledge with respect to the content domain (knowledge of subject matter to be taught), human growth and development (theories, topics, and stages), learning theory (behavioristic, cognitive, constructivistic, humanistic, social cognition), and the teaching/learning process (concepts and principles as well as their application in formal and informal environments). This course is designed to address three of these important areas: human growth and development, learning theory, and the teaching/learning process.

In the state of Georgia, a teacher's knowledge is evaluated through the completion of college-level courses and passing the Teacher Certification Test (TCT). At VSU, one requirement related to a teacher's thinking and communication skills is successful completion of a speech course at the undergraduate level. Performance skills are measured through a requirement of student teaching and an annual evaluation using the Georgia Teacher Observation Instrument (GTOI). Finally, while there is no single personality that seems to make the "best" teacher, it is certainly a variable that has attracted a lot of interest. One measure of personality that has become popular in education circles is the Keirsey Temperament Scale (a version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).

There are a wide variety of Student Characteristics that have been related to classroom behavior and student achievement. Bloom and other researchers (e.g, Anderson & Block, 1977; Bloom, 1971) engaged in the development of mastery learning have shown that when time to learn is allowed to vary, a student's prior knowledge is most important. Other researchers have shown that when time to learn is held constant, as it is in most learning envrionments in the United States, then a student's intelligence or academic ability is most important. This issue of "time to learn" is very important. If we truly believe that everyone can learn and that it is important to learn, then it would seem we would make a greater effort to provide the appropriate time to learn. However, if we believe that ability is more important and that only the most capable individuals can learn all we want them to learn, then the present system will continue to produce a result that verifies that expectation. Other student characteristics that have been found to be important include study habits, Age, Sex/Gender, Motivation, Learning Style, Cognitive development, Socioemotional development, Moral and character development, and Race/Ethnicity. In fact, the list of important student characteristics is so long entire books have been written on them.


The category of context includes all of those variables outside of the classroom that have an impact on teacher and student characteristic, classroom processes, and output. The most immediate subcategories of context variables include school characteristics and school processes.

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School characteristics includes variables such as organizational structure and school size, School processes include factors related to activities such as leadership, supervisory practices, and school climate.

There are a wide variety of other context variables that influence the teaching/learning process. Some of the subcategories of these variables include Home, Peer Groups, Community, Religious Institutions, Society, Culture, and International Conditions. Variables related to the home environment seem especially important and include such variables as the education levels of parents, family income/socioeconomic status (SES), other parental characteristics (such as age or marital status), and a group of miscellaneous variables which includes the amount of technology in the home, the number of books and magazines in the home, and so forth. One of the variables that best predicts student achievement seems to be the level of mother's education--especially if she did not graduate from high school (e.g., Campbell, 1991; Voelkl, 1993; Zill, 1992). This may be because the mother is the first educator of the child and the level of language usage she uses with the child is an important predictor of the child's language usage and school achievement. A second important factor is the amount of technology in the home (Perelman, 1992). This may be because technology is such an important factor in today's society and the more familiar the child is with technology, the more likely the child will feel comfortable in the modern classroom.

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Other important context subcategories include the community (Location, Emphasis on education). peer groups, the society (including TV/Movies, social institutions, etc.), state and national policies (including laws, programs, and funding, the culture (including values, language, art, music, etc.), and international/global conditions. A very important aspect of the latter is the movement to the information age which is in turn influencing all other aspects of living (Huitt, 1995). This is especially important because it is redefining the knowledge and skills that students need if they are to be successful in society. As shown in the graph below, the number of people employed in the service and information sectors today is over 75% or approximately the same percentage as that accounted for by agriculture and industry in the 1870s.

It is also having an impact on the practice of education in that alternative forms of schooling are increasingly being advocated.

The following is a simple example of how some of these variables might interact. Context variables such as the size and region of the community impact teacher and student characteristics while the context variables associated with the family impact student characteristics. Of course, there are other important context variables that could also be considered as described above. Additional context variables associated with school and state policies combine with teacher and student characteristics to impact teacher behavior. Teacher behavior along with student characteristics influence student behavior, especially those variables associated with Academic Learning Time. Student classroom behavior then influences teacher classroom behavior in an interactive pattern. Student classroom behavior, therefore, is the most direct influence on student achievement as measured by instruments influenced by state policies.  Student achievement at the end of one school year then becomes a student characteristic at the beginning of the next. Additional outcome variables that are important for success in the information age can be considered in the same manner.

This framework has been developed from the perspective of systems theory. It will be one of the main organizing features of this course. There are a variety of other mental representations that have been developed to organize the variables of interest in educational psychology. McIlrath and Huitt (1995) provide a review of previous models of the teaching/learning process and compare it to this proposed framework. If you prefer another organizational structure, it is certainly appropriate to use it during any discussions we have about how knowledge related to educational psychology might be organized. Be sure to cite the author(s) of your framework or model whenever you refer to it. If you have developed your own framework (which I encourage you to do), you might want to have it drawn out so we can view it during our discussions.


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Copyright c 2003 -- Bill Huitt