10 Ways to Get Student-Centered Learning Right | Edudemic

Written by on 17/11/2014 in Curated content


If there´s been a single educational buzzword with traction over the past few years, student-centered learning certainly tops the charts. From the TED stage to experimental classrooms, an increasing number of thought leaders, schools and teachers are advocating a handover of the learning experience to the students who must do the learning. To seasoned educators, the basic concepts that undergird student-centered learning wont strike them as particularly new.

Photo credit: Francisco Osorio

After all, Paulo Freire’s famous critique of the “Banking Model of Education” — the model in which knowledge is a resource that students passively withdraw from the bank (teacher) without active engagement — made waves all the way back in the early 70s. Even earlier in the 20th century, John Dewey, Carl Rogers, and Maria Montessori advocated for student-driven learning, while Theodore Sizer’s 1987 book, Horace’s Compromise, advocated for collaborative learning.

And yet, while student-centered learning did take off in some places (often in private schools), it has only recently begun to take firm hold in public schools. This may be due in part to the renewed influence of educational reformers and an increased urgency to fix a struggling education system. However, the influence of the Common Core’s tough critical thinking requirements can’t be underestimated, as well as the spread of technology that is increasingly making personalized learning a reality.

If we accept the premise that student-centered learning can be a highly effective strategy for many kinds of classrooms and school populations, how can we ensure it is implemented effectively, with intelligence, and without the rigid dogma that so often leads to the failure of so many sweeping educational reforms?

It Starts With Definition

At its most general, student-centered learning is an educational experience that is driven by its students. This can manifest in many different ways. In student-centered learning, students might choose what they want to learn within a set range of topics, lead their own discussions after doing research online, or complete a mixture of online classes and independent study. Student-centered learning can encompass (but is in no way limited to or defined by) project-based learning, active learning, and collaborative learning. As a personalized form of learning, student-centered approaches can mean many different things, as long as they employ that essential pivot from teacher- to student-lead learning. The core goals are to motivate and interest students and to foster critical thinking skills that employ active rather than passive engagement in the classroom. For a deeper look at what student learning is — and what it can be — we can’t recommend this guide from the Education Writers Association highly enough.

How to Make It Work

Using a struggling New Hampshire school as a case study, the recent Atlantic article, “What Happens When Students Control Their Education?” provides an excellent review of what proponents see as the benefits of student-centered learning and critics see as weaknesses. Here are the key takeaways for overcoming obstacles and successfully making this shift in your classroom or school.

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