North Seattle Community College

Online Tutor Training

One of the fundamental decisions tutors must make when working with a student is when to be directive or non-directive during a session.  

However, before we delve into that decision making process, let us first define our terms. What is directive and non-directive tutoring?



Tutor tells the student what they should  focus on during the session.

Student tells the tutor what they want to focus on during the session.


The tutor imparts knowledge to the student

The tutor draws knowledge out of the student.


Tutor explains or tells the student what they should think about a given topic.


Tutor asks open ended questions to help the student discover what he thinks about a given topic.

Tutor is an authority on the subject matter.


Tutor and student are equals.

 As you can see, these are two radically different approaches. A tutor who engages in directive tutoring becomes a surrogate teacher, taking the role of an authority and imparting knowledge. The tutor who takes the non-directive approach is more of a facilitator, helping the student draw out the knowledge he already possesses.

In some ways, the Non-Directive approach embodies the old adage: “Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” Tutors are in effect modeling how to be a self-directed learner.

Nevertheless, there are instances where no amount of questioning will lead the student to the correct answer. The background knowledge just isn’t there. This is the drawback of the non-directive approach because it can become an exercise is frustration like a cat chasing its own tail. Perhaps this is why some scholars like Peter Carino, a professor at Indiana State University, argues for a more balanced approach to tutoring that involves both directive and non-directive techniques.

Carino believes:

          A directive approach is entirely appropriate for low level students.

         A tutorial session can shift back and forth between directive and non-directive approaches.

         A session can also shift back and forth with both tutor and student serving as the authority during various points in the tutorial.

He even offers a formula for determining which approach is best to take:

         More student knowledge, less tutor knowledge = more nondirective methods

         Less student knowledge, more tutor knowledge = more directive methods

Therefore, when a student has a strong understanding of the subject matter, a tutor should take a more non-directive approach to the session, acting more like a facilitator who is drawing knowledge from the student.

However, when a student possesses limited to no knowledge about the subject, the tutor should not shy away from being directive and providing them the knowledge they need to succeed.

Reflection Spot: Directive Vs. Non-Directive Tutoring





 Course Contents

Module 3:  Introduction

Student Centered Learning

Directive vs. Non-Directive Tutoring

The Art of Questioning

Open Ended Questioning Gone Wrong

Active Listening

Learning Styles

Addressing Learning Styles

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 Directive vs. Non-Directive Tutoring