While there doesn’t seem to be one definition for the student or learner-centered approach in higher education, Barbara McCombs, author of two books on learner-centered teaching, provides a comprehensive definition including the three features discussed below:
The core of the LCM [Learner-Centered Model] is that all instructional decisions begin with knowing who the learners are – individually and collectively.
Instructors need to take into account who they are teaching. Each student comes to class with their own past—academically and experientially. They also come with their own goals. Not everyone will succeed in the same way and with the same type of instruction. Personalized learning data is key to understanding and supporting this aspect of the student-centered approach. Instructors can obtain this data by analyzing each student’s work and engaging with them.
Courseware that incorporates personalized learning (see previous post One Size Fits All…Not) makes this process easier and more productive. The data that instructors obtain from courseware helps instructors reach individuals and the class as a whole in real time. This allows instructors to use their time in a more focused way to move the whole class forward.
This [the first tenet] is followed by thoroughly understanding learning and how best to support learning for all people in the system.
Approaches to student-centered learning are innovative and varied. They usually fall into these categories:
- Activity-based learning such as discovery exercises, exchange of ideas (in person or online), simulations, problem-based learning, and project-based learning
- Choice such as students choosing assignments, when and where they study, how they want to approach a topic, and deadlines
- Collaboration such as team-based learning and peer exchanges
- Real-world challenges such as problem-solving and community outreach
- Metacognition such as transparency of progress and learning pathways, reflection on learning, and self-motivation
Quality courseware includes most if not all of these types of support for learner-centered programs.
Decisions about what practices should be in place at the school and classroom levels depend upon what we want learners to know and be able to do.
Learning outcomes based on instructor-determined teaching goals are integral to the success of student-centered learning. The student-centered approach changes but doesn’t eliminate the role of the instructor in the learning equation. While the instructor’s role is no longer mainly about transferring knowledge, it’s still about determining what students should learn and how they learn it.
At the institutional level, faculty coming together on how to implement the student-centered approach strengthens the success potential of the approach. Creating learning outcomes across departments and connected to institutional outcomes is important. Faculty have also begun to value using personalized courseware that works across subject matter areas so that students are engaged in a consistent method of learning.
What we see as innovative for instructors is also innovative for students, particularly those in higher education today who are used to more traditional methods of learning. The more practice learners get at student-centered learning, the more impactful the approach will be. And that applies to those implementing it as well.