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Going for a student-centered learning approach

Since it wasn’t so long ago, I can still remember which were my favorite and least favorite subjects during my years at the university. When I think about it, all my favorite courses have a few common attributes that distinguish them from the rest. One of their most important characteristic is that after all these years I can still retrieve the essential parts of the course content from my memory and I can embed this knowledge in my daily activity.

Another common trait of my favorite courses were the professors who taught them and their exceptional teaching styles which managed to captivate the interest of students and keep us engaged. Their magic laid not in their lectures but in their talks they had with us. They were always keen to know what we wanted to learn and how we wanted to use all the acquired knowledge later on, in our everyday life. No wonder they came up with the best project ideas and the most interesting research topics that often seemed tailor-made to the individual and group needs.

We felt like the whole teaching activity was built around us, with our specific needs in mind. Suddenly we were more than just listeners, we were the active part of the whole process. All this was possible because our professors didn’t try to shovel tons of knowledge down our brains. Instead, they were keen to show us a way of thinking and teach us a mindset that would allow us to actively seek and absorb knowledge from the most diverse sources.

These sources mainly included our interaction with each other during seminars and projects, the course material which was made available from the start of the semester so everyone could go through it at their own pace, and other sources we discovered during our voluntary researches.

Teaching and marketing

To put it very simply, these people weren’t just professors and connoisseurs of their fields; they were true marketers of their courses and me and my fellow students were their satisfied customers.

This parallel between teaching and marketing isn’t accidental. In the center of all marketing strategies there is an element that is non-negligible and without which the whole strategy wouldn’t make sense. The consumer is always the starting point and so should be for the case of teaching strategies as well. All of them should start with the students — the consumers of education — and their specific needs.

To make this transformation there has to be a paradigm shift from teacher-centered learning, where teachers have the control over what learners study and the ways in which they study, towards a student-centered learning, where learners have the opportunity to engage more actively in the teaching process and they can choose what they really want to learn and how they want to learn it.

Going for a student-centered learning approach

Going for a student-centered learning can have some challenges, compared to the teacher-centered strategy. Teacher-centered learning is more comfortable and manageable from the school’s point of view. It’s easy to see why: students sit in rows in the classroom, learn from the same textbook, and their progress, theoretically, unfolds after the same schedule.

In a student-centered environment learners have a certain degree of control over their learning process. They can choose how they want to learn but by the end of the course they have to acquire the same proficiency. Coordinating such a heterogeneous course activity can be demanding even for the most experienced professors, but thanks to technology — software such as a school LMS and newly developed frameworks — these challenges can be resolved with relative ease.

Solutions such as self-paced learning, blended learning and flipped classes can help to move the whole teaching strategy towards the students by giving them greater control over their learning process. This way students will have more freedom in choosing the source of the information, they can learn where they want, when they want and they can do it in their own learning style.

Implementing new frameworks and technologies in the teaching process can seem hard at first, but once this becomes part of a long-term strategy, it will bring significant benefits later on for the students’ carriers. Student-centered learning ultimately serves deep learning goals and long term information retention by making the whole learning process more personalized, interesting and engaging. It motivates students to actively seek information not just passively process the incoming information.

Besides helping students achieving long term learning goals, student-centered learning helps to develop some sought after skills that will come in handy during and after university years. These skills include divergent reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking.

If put in balance, it becomes obvious that the benefits of student-centered learning outweigh its difficulties significantly. Instructional designers and teachers have to realize that a student-centered learning approach is in the students’ best interest by offering higher efficiency throughout the teaching process and creating a mindset that will help students to seek, find and use knowledge from a variety of sources. They will become the lifelong learners, independent, and creative problem solvers our world desperately needs.

What's your take on student-centered learning? Do you think more educational organizations should adopt it? Do share your opinion in the comments section below.

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