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Student-centered learning is one of the key factors of a memorable educational journey. Teachers are always looking for ways to tap into a student’s impulse and learn what interests them on their own.
How do you own your own learning? What motivates you to take it upon yourself to seek out new knowledge and skills? What makes you want to practice your musical instrument or your favourite sport? When you can answer these questions, you can then apply them to your students.
Student-centered learning puts the emphasis on experience and hands-on learning. It comes in the form of things you’re already very familiar with:
- Inquiry-based learning
- Case-based instruction
- Problem-based learning
- Project-based learning
- Discovery learning
- Just-in-time teaching
Whatever you call it, the emphasis is on students becoming empowered to own their learning. Let’s embark on a journey exploring student-centered learning.
What Student-Centered Learning Means
Here’s a catchy video from Australia on the history of education from teacher-centered classrooms and the evolution toward student-centered learning.
The following points straight from TEAL Center compare the differences between learners and instructors in student-centered learning.
- Are active participants in their own learning.
- Make decisions about what and how they will learn.
- Construct new knowledge and skills by building on current knowledge and skills.
- Understand expectations and are encouraged to use self-assessment measures.
- Monitor their own learning to develop strategies for learning.
- Work in collaboration with other learners.
- Produce work that demonstrates authentic learning.
- Recognize and accommodate different learning modalities.
- Provide structure without being overly directive.
- Listen to and respect each learner’s point of view.
- Encourage and facilitate learners’ shared decision-making.
- Help learners work through difficulties by asking open-ended questions to help them arrive at conclusions or solutions that are satisfactory to them.
- An active search for meaning by the learner.
- Constructing knowledge rather than passively receiving it—shaping as well as being shaped by experiences.
Instructional strategies and methods are used to:
- Manage time in flexible ways to match learner needs.
- Include learning activities that are personally relevant to learners.
- Give learners increasing responsibility for the learning process.
- Provide questions and tasks that stimulate learners’ thinking beyond rote memorization.
- Help learners refine their understanding by using critical thinking skills.
- Support learners in developing and using effective learning strategies for each task.
- Include peer learning and peer teaching as part of the instructional method.
- Giving up absolute control. Students own their learning and pace themselves. Teachers participate as mentors—not by giving answers, but by guiding and asking open-ended critical thinking questions. Seating arrangement is no longer teacher in front and desks in neat rows. Creative seating maximizes collaboration and self-directed work.
- Valuing student engagement over convenience. Assessments are critical thinking based, and open-ended. Rather than multiple choice questions, actually have them do a hands-on assessment. This may be time-consuming and it takes a little more work on your part, but it is worth it.
- Honoring student passion and interest. Be flexible if your students seem to want to take a different route. Key into their interests and your project might take an unexpected turn. Go with the flow, but keep your goals in mind.
- Admitting you do not have the market cornered on knowledge. Teach creativity and critical thinking. Teach empowerment rather than compliance. You are not the sole source of information.
- Developing healthy relationships with learners. Channel joy, flexibility, humour, and risk failure. Be honest and encouraging. Mentor with challenging and appropriate dialogue. Will students continue to come to your class, even if they don’t have to?
Finally, a real in-depth look and analysis of one man’s efforts to foster student-centered learning his class, by Luis M. Oros.
A Key Ingredient
In student-centered learning, the teacher becomes a facilitator and is able to circle the room. They are guiding and relishing in the important discussions spurred by the students themselves. Great student-centered learning takes risks and allows the student to do most of the work. After all, students learn by doing.
The above lists are simply a start. They’re for providing opportunities for students to own their learning through meaningful and relevant reflection and collaboration.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 2, 2018, updated Dec 17, 2021