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Teaching & Learning

Tutorial theory

What is a tutorial

A tutorial is a class configuration in which one or a small group of trainees connect to talk about something the guidance of a tutor or trainer. So, in General Practice training, the GP Trainer will be involved in giving 1-1 tutorials to his or her trainee.  If there is more than one trainee in the practice. the Trainer will then be involved in a tutorial with perhaps 2 to 6 others.   

What's the difference between a lecture, tutorial, workshop and lectorial?


A lecture usually involves  a teacher presenting themes and concepts on a given topic to learners, students or trainees.  The teacher assumes the role of a lecturer and presents information to a large class, and while questions are encouraged, there is minimal group discussion.


Tutorial classes are facilitated by a teacher (often called the facilitator) and are run in smaller groups (6-8 trainees). Tutorials allow group discussion of topic content, assessment, and debate on themes and concepts. 


Workshops usually involve a teacher presenting themes and concepts, or the development of a skill, on a given topic. Workshops usually involve a combination of things like presentations, deep discussion, debate and interaction.   There’s often more hands-on learning.  


Lectorials are, as the name suggests, a combination of lecture and tutorial teaching modes designed to improve opportunities for trainee engagement in larger cohorts. Advances in technology and configuration of the rooms allow a traditional instructor (lecturer) and several teaching staff (tutors) to deliver a learning experience that integrates the student-centred and collaborative elements of a tutorial in a lecture theatre – for example, during the lecture, several tutors can provide support across a large group of students, effectively conducting multiple ‘tutorials’ in the one space/class.

What types of tutorials can I give?

  • A discussion tutorial
  • A problem-solving tutorial
  • A question and answer tutorial
  • A topic review
  • Skill demonstration Tutorial
  • Random Case Analysis Tutorial
  • Exam-based tutorials

Key strategies for a good tutorial

There is no one ‘right’ way to teach or facilitate in a tutorial.  The approach depends on lots of factors like the topic, your learning outcomes, the type of learners you have, the environment in which you are teaching and the resources available to you.    Despite these variables, the tips below should help.

Invest time at the start of the initial tutorial telling the trainees about yourself and then asking them to learn about each other.   Remember to sell yourself – otherwise why should they listen to you?   ‘Ice-breakers’ can be used in the first tutorial.  The more you know your trainees, the more you can tailor the tutorial towards their individual needs.  And you can use knowledge of their experiences to help magnify the transformational impact of the learning.

Think about your outcomes for the tutorial. Before you go into a tutorial be clear on what it is you desire the trainees to do as well as what it is they are in need of, that is, the aims and outcomes for the tutorial.  Do it way in advance and not at the last minute.   What is it that you want your trainees to get out of the session.   How about asking them what they want and using that as a starting point?

The ACME method of designing a teaching session?

  • Aims – develop them first.
  • Content – only then define the content and make sure it matches with the Aims.  
  • Methodology – make sure the educational methods which you employ to deliver the content matches with the Aims.
  • Evaluation – ask the trainees for feedback on whether you met the Aims and Intended Learning Outcome (ILO).

More on Aims & ILOs here.

More on Teaching for Beginners here.

By actively involved, I mean ensure that they aren’t just passively listening to you!    Instead, create and devise tasks and activities to help them create their own knowledge.  Promote learning and engagement with each other.   The more active the learning, the more likely the new knowledge will embed itself in their memory.    Your job of Teacher, Tutor, Trainer, Facilitator is not just to furnish the trainees with new knowledge.  You have a duty to help them construct meaning, and help provide a framework for them to internalise and consolidate their learning.   

Talk to the trainees around your expectations of them in with regards to contributing to the class and collaborating as a large team and likewise in little groups. Ask the trainees what they are expecting to get out of the tutorial. Together, generate a selection of ground rules for the group.

A dull boring overheated room can send anyone into sleep mode.  And no active learning happens in sleep mode no matter how committed people are to their learning.  The environment is as important as the educational content and educational methodology – yet it is one of the biggest things that educators overlook!

Think of the types of tasks you want the trainees to be doing.  Then arrange the physical space to enable that to happen.  Make sure the room is not too warm and not too cold.  If possible choose a nice room not a dull one.   Choose a room which offers plenty of space.   And arrange chairs into a circle.   The circle promotes equality and encourages members to contribute.   Remove tables if you think it will help.  Remember, you might think the environment is not under your control, but many aspects of it are.    


Your tutorial group will consist of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  Embrave these differences – they can enrich the learning for all participants of the group as individuals give their own “flavour” on things.    As a tutor it is your obligation to create an atmosphere for learning from each other from our wonderfully differing backgrounds and experiences.

How else can you improve if you don’t ask for feedback?  This can be as easy as confidential feedback on post-it notes or brief questionnaires or verbally or even visually in the form of human bar charts in response to a question which you pose.   Please note, the latter don’t offer the comfort of anonymity compared to the first.

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Bradford VTS was created by Dr. Ramesh Mehay, a Programme Director for Bradford GP Training Scheme back in 2001. Over the years, it has seen many permutations.  At the time, there were very few resources for GP trainees and their trainers so Bradford decided to create one FOR EVERYONE. 

So, we see Bradford VTS as  the INDEPENDENT vocational training scheme website providing a wealth of free medical resources for GP trainees, their trainers and TPDs everywhere and anywhere.  We also welcome other health professionals – as we know the site is used by both those qualified and in training – such as Associate Physicians, ANPs, Medical & Nursing Students. 

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