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Understanding the fundamentals of student-centered learning

This post was originally published in QA Education MAgazine, on October 25, 2017.

The educational system of today was perfect for yesterday. Students need to know more than how to read, write, count and be compliant if we want them to make a living and lead a successful life in the future. Teachers, parents, researchers and other education stakeholders recognize this situation and have sounded the alarm concerning educational reform for quite a while now.

Even though it seems to move slowly, the education system is moving forward. Plenty of schools adapt to new requirements, more and more educators make use of edtech in their classrooms, and the needs of the 21st Century learner is something that almost every conversation about education gravitates towards.

Everybody’s talking about student-centered learning.

But even though everyone is talking about it, it doesn’t mean that everyone knows exactly what to do to achieve it. I can’t claim to be a know-it-all, but I believe that a student-centered approach to education is the best way to equip our kids with the skills they’ll need to become successful adults. I’m sure there are many experts on this subject that agree with me and also can provide practical examples and results of student-centered learning.

The thing is, there is no one best way to deliver student-centered education. In fact, educators are often overwhelmed by the many different ways to do it. Furthermore, all the (sometimes expensive) initiatives to achieve student-centered education are in vain if the people involved do not understand its fundamentals.

Understanding the fundamentals of student-centered learning

In a student-centered approach to education one must put the student and their learning needs in the center of it all, at the basis of all educational initiatives, right? But what exactly does that mean? Well, there are at least three main components to it.

  1. Give students voice and choice

    Students, no matter their grade, need to participate in their learning process. They should be included in the lesson planning process, in each learning activity and even in the designing of assessment. Their feedback is important, and the learning materials should be created based on their passions and interests, as long as the learning objectives are still met.

    In a student-centered learning environment, students are no longer passive receivers of information, but active participants in their own learning process.

  2. The main role of the teachers is to facilitate learning

    With the vast amount of information available literally at one’s fingertips with the help of technology, 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. So, 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 compared to the traditional educational system.

    In a student-centered approach to education teachers are no longer the sole guardians of knowledge but actual learning facilitators.

  3. Education technology is a must

    You can’t really do the best work without technology nowadays, no matter what your job entails. Teachers make no exceptions. In order to be able to decide on what the best course of action is in one situation or another they must rely on the best data about the students within the school. Learning management systems and other education technology can collect vast amounts of learning data in a quick and efficient way. Teachers can therefore identify learning patterns, pinpoint where students struggle with a lesson, or suggest personalized next steps in the learning process. Armed with the right piece of information, they can offer targeted support for each of their students.

    In order to provide student-centered learning, one simply must rely on education technology.

Anyone who understands the fundamentals of student-centered learning — that students’ voice must be heard, teachers are becoming learning facilitators and that they need technology to make the best decisions — will be able to find the right path to it, I’m sure.

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