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The journey to student-centered learning

This post was originally published on October 31, on Education Technology.

“All aboard!” shouts the Railway-Conductor-Head-teacher and all the traveler-students get in the train. It’s going to be a looong journey — typically lasting 14 years, 18, or even more. The traveler-students must be on time, get in the right rail-car, sit in the designated place, present with regularity their passes, and wait for the next train stop in order to make an upgrade to their traveler status. Those that refuse to perform any of these actions get penalized or even banned from getting aboard again. Some may even chose to jump out of it, regardless of risks.

In case it’s not clear by now that the above lines are not at all about a train journey, I must say I’m actually talking about our educational system. From Kindergarten to high school and after that in college, our students are mostly treated as if they’re traveling with a railroad train of the past, bringing all of them in the same direction at the same time. And we keep wondering about the high rates of dropout students.

Kids don’t learn the same. And when their specific learning needs are met, the percentage of underachievers and dropouts shrinks, engagement rates and the likability of going to school go up, as well as student performance.

Meeting the specific learning needs of students has a name among educators: student-centered learning.

The journey to student-centered learning

Characteristics of student-centered learning

By putting students at the center of education and regarding them as the most important reason the educational system exists, schools all over the world have better chances of being successful in the future.

In a student-centered approach to education students are given voice and choice. They are included in the lesson planning process, in each learning activity and also in the designing of assessment. They are asked for feedback and the learning materials are created based on their passions and interests, as long as the learning objectives are still met. They are no longer passive receivers of information, but active participants in their own learning process.

If the students get the spotlight, teachers become whisperers behind the stage curtain. They are more learning facilitators instead of sole guardians of knowledge. With the vast amount of information available literally at one’s fingertips, schools are no longer the only source of knowledge, as they used to be. Students can find anything they want to learn online. But no matter which source they choose, they will have questions. Teachers must be there for them and not only answer their questions, but guide them towards new ones and empower them to find answers on their own. This may be a tougher job for teachers than the traditional lecture holding.

Prerequisites of student-centered learning

In order to create a student-centered learning environment, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, you can’t really achieve it without technology. In order to be able to decide on what the best course of action is in one situation or another teachers must rely on big data. Big learning data. Learning management systems and other education technology can collect a lot of data on students’ learning, can identify learning patterns, pinpoint where students struggle within a lesson, or suggest personalized next steps in the learning process. Armed with the right piece of information, educators can offer targeted support for each of their students.

Today's technology tools can provide teachers with the ability to transform their classroom into an engaging environment that students will want to be a part of. But the mere introduction of technology in the classroom does not guarantee ed-tech success. Technology is only a tool. If it’s not used properly, it won’t magically deliver the results everyone’s expecting. So the real problem is not the availability of or the access to technology (although challenges exist on that front as well), but the use of technology in education at its full potential. And how can schools achieve that? By offering targeted professional development for teachers, of course.

Another basic thing about creating a student-centered learning environment is too often overlooked — the physical space of a classroom. When we think about the classroom, we imagine a designated space for the teacher, in front of the room, with a blackboard behind their desk, as well as rows of student desks, neatly aligned, with equal distance between them. But alternative solutions of flexible classroom furniture exist and instead of turning into complete chaos, these classes surprise everyone with improved academic results.


Student engagement and creativity will increase when they are given the opportunity to use technology tools in their classroom and get the proper guidance they need in order to use it properly to achieve their learning goals, all while being in a flexible learning environment.

Student-centered education allows students to drive their own learning. They can still opt for the train journey, but they have more control over the time and place the do it, which railcar to travel in, which seat to take and when to present the boarding pass to collect “Approved” stamps. And if they really want to, they can opt for a car, a bicycle, or even a hoverboard instead.Rather than school being compared to the railroad train of the past bringing all students the same direction at the same time, we now co-design learning environments better suited to addressing ISTE’s updated student standards and allow students to drive their own learning in any number of vehicles from hoverboards to racecars adjusting pace, place, time and rate of learning.

Today's technology tools can provide teachers with the ability to transform their classroom into an engaging environment that students will want to be a part of. We have found that student engagement and creativity will increase when students are given the opportunity to use technology tools in their classroom.

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