The IAG approach to active learning

James Moran

What is the idea?

Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) services are distinct from teaching but share many common skills. These include communication, encouraging student participation and active listening.  To facilitate active learning, it is possible to draw on an interview technique used in IAG settings which has been adapted from Egan’s (1975; 2018) three stage interview model, and the work of Ali and Graham (1996).

Why this idea?

Encouraging student engagement can be challenging in a range of learning environments such as in classrooms, labs or online. Participants can be reluctant to contribute to a learning activity, take part in question-and-answer sessions or engage in group discussions. One way to provide a framework to facilitate discussion, establish a learning contract with students and encourage active engagement with subject content is to draw on the model proposed by Egan (1975; 2018), and further developed by Ali and Graham (1996).

Egan (1975; 2018) identified three principal goals of helping people and translated these into a three-stage model which asks about: clients’ problems and unused opportunities; solutions which can help them to achieve what they want; and action planning.  Egan’s model and methodology requires the interviewer to make use of active listening skills and to make clear distinctions between repetition and empathetic learning (Riggall, 2016). However, a reframing of this model presented by Ali and Graham (1996) in The Counselling Approach to Careers Guidance provides a more accessible structure:

Clarifying – setting the scene; developing empathy; hearing the client’s story; making an initial assessment [of needs]

Exploring – building the contract; exploring issues within the contract; encouraging the client to explore other options; re-examining the contract.

Evaluating – challenging inconsistencies; enabling the client to weigh up the pros and cons for each option; prioritising options with the client

Action Planning – helping the client to identify what needs to be done; encouraging the client to formulate an appropriate systematic plan of action; introducing the concept of referral, reviewing the contract (if necessary); ending the interview.

Though originally designed to support exploration of career and life choices, this model can be adapted for use within teaching. Using a facilitatory and discussion driven approach, a teacher can use the stages of Ali and Graham’s model to encourage a collaborative active learning structure.

Adaptation of Ali and Graham’s (1996) model:

Clarifying: Setting the expected outcomes for the session; establishing student expectations.  (This makes it clear to the teacher what the students’ are expecting to achieve from the session and ensures they have a voice in the direction it takes).

Exploring: Establishing a ‘contract’ of what is to be achieved, agreeing expected behaviours of engagement within the session, and developing and affirming the intended outcomes. (This helps to set realistic expectations of what can be achieved and also sets out the parameters of the teacher’s role; it can also help to establish expected behaviours both between the students and teacher and between students themselves).

Evaluating: Talking through with the students where challenges/inconsistencies may arise in their answers; looking at ways in which learning can be enhanced and ensuring the right learning support is being received/accessed. 
Action Planning: Identifying where gaps in learning may exist; encouraging students to identify resources which help them; making a plan of action to achieve the overarching outcomes of the session and apply learning in future sessions.

How could others implement this idea?

The student-centric nature of the model, along with the ability to repeat steps until an outcome has been achieved, echoes the core tenet of learner-centric pedagogy in active learning.

Example 1:

A lab class of 20 second year students have been divided into groups of 4 and asked to design an experiment.

Clarifying: Ensure that each of the students are aware of what is expected from the task and what your role is (e.g. to assist in locating resources but not to provide the exact method). 
Exploring: Seek mutual agreement with the students regarding behaviours expected in the lab and clarify the desired outcomes of the task (e.g. not only to complete the problem set, but to work collaboratively and develop their own method for completing the experiment).
Evaluating: Provide opportunities for the respective groups to give feedback to you and to each other about challenges they faced in developing or undertaking the experiment.
Action Planning: Identify actions from the evaluation stage and plan how these can be enacted in a future experiment. 

Example 2:

A group of 15 first year students have been set some reading to do before a seminar; none are forthcoming in class with opinions or thoughts.

Clarifying: Clearly outline the purpose of the exercise, its benefits and why it is useful.  You could use an interactive learning method such as an electronic poll to ensure the task is understood. 
Exploring: Adopt a facilitatory approach to determine how students would feel most comfortable engaging with the task; allow time for their contributions to inform how feedback from the task will be shared. 
Evaluating: Utilise a discursive approach about both the nature of the task and the topic being discussed. What challenges were found both in the learning approach and within the reading? 
Action Planning: What has been learnt about the topic from the reading? What has been learnt about how the activity itself can promote learning?  Ask students to provide an example of how they will approach the task next time based on this experience. 

Transferability to different contexts

Egan’s model is readily applicable to multiple teaching sessions and has already been adapted to several different contexts from careers guidance (Ali and Graham 1996); to social work (Riggall, 2016) and law (Brayne, 1998).

Potential areas for use in teaching in higher educations include:

  • In person or online teaching sessions of 30 participants or less
  • Lab practicals
  • 1:1 Mentoring online or in person
  • Personal tutoring sessions
  • Dissertation or PhD supervisions
  • Providing a structure for small group settings
  • Discussing assessment feedback

Links to tools and resources


Ali L., & Graham B. The Counselling Approach to Careers Guidance.

Brayne, H. 1998. Counselling skills for the lawyer can lawyers learn anything from counsellors? The Law Teacher, 32(2), 137-156.

Egan, G., 1975. The skilled helper: A model for systematic helping and interpersonal relating. Brooks.

Egan, G., 2018. The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Riggall, S., (2016). The sustainability of Egan’s skilled helper model in students’ social work practice. Journal of Social Work Practice, 30(1), 81-93.

About the author

James Moran is an Academic Project and Development Adviser, module leader on the Academic Professional Apprenticeship (APA), and co-leader of the Associate Teaching Pathway at Loughborough University. James is a Senior Fellow of the HEA and has worked in both teaching and student service roles in a range of UK universities.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by James Moran is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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