Teaching Less and Learning More?

In 2006, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) began implementing the ‘Teach Less Learn More (TLLM)’ policy in all schools to remedy the poor performances in innovation-based subjects. The TLLM phrase was first announced by the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech, which was an adaptation from Ted Sizer’s ‘Less is more’ articulation of how schools should lessen students’ learning goals and make them simpler so that all students could master the essential skills and knowledge areas rather than merely covering contents.

Finland’s education system which has been ranked consistently as the best in the world by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), certainly advocates ‘Less is more’ as their students spend less time in schools and have more rest, fewer instruction time for teachers and more planning time, less testing and more learning, fewer topics but more depth, less homework but more participation. This is in stark contrast with most other education systems where the belief is that ‘more’ will solve the education problems such as more classes, more hours, more homework, assignments, pressure, content, meetings, after school tutoring, and of course more testing! This has brought about more exhausted teachers, more student stress and frustrations.

While the TLLM initiative is beginning to produce holistic teaching and learning benefits for Singaporean schools, what about higher education in general? Will the TLLM approach work? According to Professor Lee Sing Kong, director of the National Institute of Education, the TLLM initiative aims to teach students to apply rather than absorb knowledge where the curriculum is focused on delivering more relevant teaching and more sustained student engagement. Hence, it is to teach less of contents for rote learning, the drill and practice; and more guided facilitation and modeling. Students will be encouraged to take ownership of their learning, while educators must talk less for their students to learn more.

Digital illustrations by Ashila Sandi and Wynne Pankusya, 2019.

The letting go of ‘control’ and allowing students to own their learning as independent and responsible learners is perhaps the most challenging decision for higher education academics as students could refuse to participate and insist on their preferred learning styles. The Learning and Skills Research Centre which produced a comprehensive analysis on seventy-one models of learning styles from the United Kingdom, the United States and Western Europe; advised to not indulge too closely to students’ preferences as information in the real world is not presented in exactly the way that is preferred. Therefore, students will need to learn how to adapt to various types of learning styles and environments for relevance.

To sum up and clarify the confusion, the TLLM approach does not mean that academics should actually teach less, in terms of teaching contact hours but rather, less of teacher-centered and content-based rote learning, with more of facilitated real-world problem-solving inquiry or project-based learning. More of efficient, engaging interactive pedagogies that is student-centered with various modes of assessments that are not exams. That said, far removed from the literal connotation of teaching less; the TLLM approach is actually the polar opposite. Higher education academics could very well be required to teach more in order to equip graduates with the Fourth Industrial Revolution work skills.


Tan, J. P. L., Koh, E., Chan, M., Costes-Onishi, P., & Hung, D. (2017). Advancing 21st century competencies in Singapore. Advancing 21st century competencies in East Asian education systems. Asia Society, Centre for Global Education. Retrieved from http://asiasociety. org/sites/default/files/2017-10/advancing-21st-century-competencies-insingapore. pdf.

Kenworthy, L., & Kielstra, P. (2015). Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future. The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited.

Coffield, F. J., Moseley, D. V., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles: What research has to say to practice. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.

World Economic Forum. (2016, January). The future of jobs: Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. In Global Challenge Insight Report, World Economic Forum, Geneva.

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