Approaches: What is learner-centred?

What is learner-centred teaching?

Learner centred teaching is an approach that places the learner at the centre of the learning.

This means that the learner or student is responsible for learning while the tutor is responsible for facilitating the learning. This is also known as student-centred learning.

Learner-centred teaching helps you pave the road to learner success.

This idea of the teacher as the “facilitator” means that the focus of teaching shifts from the teacher to the student. This type of teaching should put learners’ interests first.

Why is a learner-centred approach important?

Taking a learner centred approach is important for adult teaching environment for many reasons.

One is that it helps to develop learners who can learn and work on their own. This means that it enables life-long learning and independent problem-solving.

Another reason it’s important is that by putting responsibility for learning in the hands of learners, we encourage them to be active and responsible participants in their own learning.

Also, learner centred teaching is seen as good practice internationally.

What’s wrong with traditional teacher-centred approaches?

By contrast, traditional education is often “teacher centred”. This means that the teacher is in the “active” role while the learners are “passive”.

As a contrast to the learner-centred approach, what most of us have experienced in our educational journeys is often “teacher-centred”. 

This means that the teacher is in the “active” role while the learners are “passive”. 

Very few of us are good learners when we are in this kind of “passive” role in a teaching and learning situation.

Many of our learners, especially adult learners who have low literacy and numeracy skills struggle in teacher-centred environments. 

So it follows that anything that you can do to make learning more “active” for them is a good thing.

Very few of us are good learners when we are in this kind of “passive” role in a teaching situation.

Many of our learners who have low adult literacy and numeracy skills struggle in teacher-centred environments.

Anything that you can do to make learning more “active” for them is a good thing.

Can you compare learner-centred and teacher-centred?

Here’s a quick comparison of what learner centred teaching might include versus a more traditional teacher-centred approach.

Learner-centredTeacher-centred
The focus is on both the learners and the teacher.The focus is on the teacher who is the expert.
The focus is on how the learners will use the skills or content.The focus is on what the teacher knows about the skills or content
Teacher models. Learners interact with teacher and each other. Teacher talks. Learners listen.
Learners work in pairs, groups, or alone depending on the task. Learners work alone.
Learners work without constant monitoring and correction. Tutor provides feedback or corrections as questions come up.Teacher monitors and corrects.
Learners have some choice of topics.Teacher chooses topics.
Learners evaluate their own learning. Tutor also evaluates. Teacher evaluates student learning.
Learning environment (may not be a classroom) is often noisy and busy. Learning environment (usually a classroom)  is quiet.

How do you make the shift from teacher-centred to learner-centred? 

You don’t need a masters degree in education to understand what learner-centred means.

We’ve all been in those kinds of classes. You know… when the teacher dominates the class. 

Or when some smart alec won’t shut up. And everyone else defers to them because they know the answers.

And so if you want to create a learner-centred environment, one quick way to get started is start experimenting with the opposite of what you would normally do.

Think of the opposite. And then do it. Here are some questions to get you started.

In a teacher-centred environment, the teacher talks and the learners listen. Instead, ask your self:

  • How can I stop talking and start listening?
  • Can I simply demonstrate or model whatever it is that I have to teach without talking too much?
  • How can I encourage my learners to interact with one other and with me rather than being passive listeners? 

In a teacher-centred environment, the focus is on the teacher who is the expert. Instead, consider:

  • Is there a way of recognising that my learners can be experts too?
  • How can I shift the focus away from what I know, and rather look at how my learners will use these skills and content?
  • What are some ways in which we can work and learn together?

In a teacher-centred environment, learners often work alone but with monitoring and correction from the teacher. Instead, ask:

  • Can my learners work in pairs, groups, or alone depending on the task? 
  • How can I foster an environment where learners work with constant monitoring and correction?
  • Can I simply provide feedback or corrections as questions, issues or challenges arise?

In a teacher-centred environment, the teacher chooses what to teach. The teacher chooses the topics or curriculum. Instead, think about how you would answer the following questions:

  • Even if my curriculum is set by someone else, how can I give my learners some choice of topics?
  • Can I include my learners in planning to increase their sense of agency?

In a teacher-centred environment, the teacher evaluates student learning. Instead of this, ask yourself:

  • Can I get my learners to evaluate their own learning? 
  • What are some good ways to do this?
  • Will my own learner evaluations improve if I incorporate learner evaluation data as well?

In a teacher-centred environment, the learning environment (usually a classroom) is often quiet. Instead, ask yourself:

  • Does my learning environment have to be a classroom, or are there alternatives I can experiment with?
  • Can a learning environment, especially one that’s not a classroom, still function effectively with a bit of noise and busyness?

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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