Student-Centered Learning Background

Traditionally, teachers direct the learning process and students assume a receptive role in their education. With the advent of progressive education in the 19th century, and the influence of psychologists, some educators have largely replaced traditional curriculum approaches with "hands-on" activities and "group work", which the child determines on his own what he wants to do in class. Key amongst these changes is the premise that students actively construct their own learning. Theorists like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky whose collective work focused on how students learn is primarily responsible for the move to student-centred learning. Carl Rogers' ideas about the formation of the individual also contributed to student-centred learning. Student-centred learning means reversing the traditional teacher-centred understanding of the learning process and putting students at the centre of the learning process. Maria Montessori was also an influence in centre-based learning, where preschool children learn through play.

Student-centred learning allows students to actively participate in discovery learning processes from an autonomous viewpoint. Students consume the entire class time constructing a new understanding of the material being learned without being passive, but rather proactive. A variety of hands-on activities are administered in order to promote successful learning. Unique, yet distinctive learning styles are encouraged in a student-centred classroom. With the use of valuable learning skills, students are capable of achieving life-long learning goals, which can further enhance student motivation in the classroom. Self-determination theory focuses on the degree to which an individual’s behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined.” Therefore, when students are given the opportunity to gauge their learning, learning becomes an incentive. Because learning can be seen as a form of personal growth, students are encouraged to utilize self-regulation practices in order to reflect on his or her work. For that reason, learning can also be constructive in the sense that the student is in full control of his or her learning. Over the past few decades, a paradigm shift in curriculum has occurred where the teacher acts as a facilitator in a student-centred classroom.

Such emphasis on learning has enabled students to take a self-directed alternative to learning. In the teacher-centred classroom, teachers are the primary source for knowledge. Therefore, the focus of learning is to gain information as it is proctored to the student. Also, rote learning or memorization of teacher notes or lectures was the norm a few decades ago. On the other hand, student-centred classrooms are now the norm where active learning is strongly encouraged. Students are now researching material pertinent to the success of their academia and knowledge production is seen as a standard. In order for a teacher to veer towards a student-centred classroom, he or she must become aware of the diverse backgrounds of his or her learners. To that end, the incorporation of a few educational practices such as Bloom's Taxonomy and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple intelligences can be beneficial to a student-centred classroom because it promotes various modes of diverse learning styles. The following provides a few examples of why student-centred learning should be integrated into the curriculum:

    Strengthens student motivation
    Promotes peer communication
    Reduces disruptive behaviour
    Builds student-teacher relationships
    Promotes discovery/active learning
    Responsibility for one’s own learning

These changes have impacted educator's methods of teaching and the way students learn. In essence, one might say that we teach and learn in a constructivist-learning paradigm. It is important for teacher’s to acknowledge the increasing role and function of his or her educational practices. As our educational practices changes, so does our approach to teaching and learning change. Therefore, the mindset about teaching and learning is constantly evolving into new and innovative ways to reach diverse learners. When a teacher allows their students to make inquiries or even set the stage for his or her academic success, learning is more productive.

With the openness of a student-centred learning environment, knowledge production is vital when providing students the opportunity to explore their own learning styles. In that respect, successful learning also occurs when learners are fully engaged in the active learning process. A further distinction from a teacher-centred classroom to that of a student-centred classroom is when the teacher acts as a facilitator. In essence, the teacher’s goal in the learning process is to guide students into making new interpretations of the learning material.

In terms of curriculum practice, the student has the choice in what they want to study and how they are going to apply their newfound knowledge. According to Ernie Stringer, “Student learning processes are greatly enhanced when they participate in deciding how they may demonstrate their competence in a body of knowledge or the performance of skills.” This pedagogical implication enables the student to establish his or her unique learning objectives. This aspect of learning holds the learner accountable for production of knowledge that he or she is capable of producing. In this stage of learning, the teacher evaluates the learner by providing honest and timely feedback on individual progress. Building a rapport with students is an essential strategy that educators could utilize in order to gauge student growth in a student-centred classroom. Through effective communication skills, the teacher is able to address student needs, interests, and overall engagement in the learning material. According to James Henderson, there are three basic principles of democratic living, which he says are not yet established in our society in terms of education. The three basic tenets, which he calls the 3S’s of teaching for democratic living, are:

    (Subject Learning)- Students learn best from subject matter thoughtfully presented.
    (Self-Learning)- One must engage oneself in the generative process.
    (Social Learning)- Empathy is wealth in this regard, social interaction with diverse others the target for generosity.

Through peer-to-peer interaction, collaborative thinking can lead to an abundance of knowledge. According to Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), students typically learn vicariously through one another. Through a socio-cultural perspective on learning, scaffolding is important when fostering independent thinking skills. Vygotsky proclaims, "Learning which is oriented toward developmental levels that have already been reached is ineffective from the view point of the child's overall development. It does not aim for a new stage of the developmental process but rather lags behind this process." In essence, instruction is designed to access a developmental level that is measurable to the student’s current stage in development.