What is learner-centred? Teach 100% better with a learner-centred approach

What is learner-centred?

12 concepts from te ao Maori you should embrace to create learning success

Having trouble figuring out what learner-centred means?

As featured in What is Learner-Centred? By Graeme Smith. The extract below presents time-honoured approaches you can use to create the conditions for learning success. These are lessons I’ve learned teaching and upskilling vocational educators and others in Aotearoa New Zealand since 2006.

This book is for you if you are interested in teaching in a way that is more learner-centred, learning to think in a way that is more; and applying the lens of a different worldview to help you create learning success.

The short extract below is about a learner-centred approach and will tell you what you need to know. But there’s so much more if you want to dig a bit deeper, in particular, into Te Ao Māori – the Māori world.

Get my eBook on Learner-Centred Teaching

What are others saying about What is Learner Centred?

“I wanted to say thank you for allowing me to see more clearly the 12 concepts from Te Ao Maori I need to embrace as an Adult Literacy and Numeracy tutor.

I purchased it yesterday online and it instantly helped me with concepts in the NZCALNE certificate I am currently working on.

Nearly 30 years ago I trained as a teacher and came back to [here] to teach. Then I stopped after 7 years. I knew some of these concepts but not all of them.

I am also the mother of a part Maori son (I am Pākehā) who very much identifies as ‘Maori’ and I think somehow I understand him a little better now too.


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.

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:

Is there a way of recognising that my learners can be experts too?

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?
What is learner-centred?


Get my eBook on learner-centred teaching – What is Learner Centred?

Time-Honoured Approaches You Can Use to Create the Conditions for Learning Success 

Imagine if your teaching really connected with your learners… if your classroom or training environment was a place where your learners felt like they belonged and wanted to learn.

Here’s a secret.

It’s totally possible if you discover and embrace time-honoured concepts from Te Ao Māori – the Māori world.

Who is this book written for?

I’ve been upskilling vocational teachers and educators since 2006. 

What I learned about learner-centred teaching over this time comes mostly from learning more about Te Ao Māori – the Māori world. 

I’ve written this book based on the training I’ve done with hundreds of teachers, trainers, educators, managers and others. This includes working with Māori and non-Māori. 

This book is for you if you are interested in:

What if I Don’t Work with Māori Learners?

These concepts are drawn from a Māori worldview perspective. But they are also what we call good practice in the world of adult education and training.

The words might look new or foreign to you, but the ideas behind the words won’t be. 

In fact, as long as your learners are humans, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement once we get underway.  

So… Yes! The approaches and concepts here will work for you and your learners if you apply them. 

They WILL work for you regardless of:

  • Your own ethnic background
  • Your learners’ ethnic background
  • Where you are in the world

These approaches will also work especially well if you are a teacher or trainer, based in Aotearoa New Zealand who works with Māori learners. 

The concepts I describe also have parallels in the different Pacific languages, cultures and worldview. So they will be relevant if you work with Pacific learners. 

And there is a wider application too.

Outside of the mainstream Western educational systems, you will find similar approaches, concepts and methods in most traditional cultures.

I know this is the case, having talked to folks from First Nations cultures, Vietnam, Indonesia and indigenous Taiwanese. 

Everything Changes When Your Teaching Becomes Learner Centred   

Here are the 12 concepts you need to embrace to become more learner-centred and holistic in your own approach:

More than a mentoring approach – Tuakana-teina: Understand how this works in both traditional and more recent educational settings.

Sometimes teacher – sometimes learner – Ako:  This one concept has the potential to transform how you think about teaching and learning. 

The WH word you always needed – Whakapapa: Connect people to knowledge about the word through stories. 

Relationship glue – Whanaungatanga: Learn about the “glue” that your class needs to stick together.

Spiritual power and well-being – Mana atua: Your Western worldview makes you feel weird talking about spirituality in the classroom but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Exploring the world – Mana ao tūroa: Make the natural, social, physical, and material worlds part of your students’ learning context.

Belonging – Mana whenua: Create a learning environment where people literally and metaphorically “have a place to stand”.

Contributing – Mana tangata: Build on individual strengths, increase learners’ self-confidence and self-esteem, and allow your learners to make a contribution. 

Communicating – Mana reo: Harness the power of language to build literacy and communication skills. 

Self-determination – Tino rangatiratanga: Get some clarity on this deeply political term and see how it applies to your learners in your training environment. 

Speaking, observing and listening – Kōrero, titiro, and whakarongo: Think about how you cater to different learning styles?

Guardianship – Kaitiakitanga: Reflect on how principles of caregiving and guardianship apply to you in your unique context

Do you get confused by terminology from te reo Maori in your workplace?

If you are a Pākehā – a New Zealander of European descent it’s easy to feel intimidated or confused by words that look foreign and unfamiliar.

Furthermore, you will have noticed that you are hearing and seeing more words from te reo Māori in your workplace, in the news media and all around you.

Sometimes this causes frustration and confusion because people don’t have a shared understanding of what these words mean.

If you’ve ever felt like that, then this book will help you as well. 

“How the heck do I make sense of all this…?”

Years ago, when I started teaching a new professional development qualification, I was struggling to understand the content that I had to teach.

This included a learner-centred approach to adult education.

And it included a lot of concepts that were new to me from a Māori worldview perspective. 

The thing that I couldn’t understand at the time was why I couldn’t seem to get consistent answers from conversations I was having, books I was reading and searches I was doing online.

Back then I realised that people interpreted things differently but I didn’t have a way of putting all the pieces together.

Now I do and I share it in this book

There’s an easy way to understand the different layers of Māori knowledge

Before we even get into exploring the concepts and approaches I outline an easy visual way to make sense of the different layers of Mātauranga Māori – or Māori Knowledge.

Once you understand how these layers work, you’ll see how it’s possible to retain a system that makes sense in the face of what I used to feel were conflicting understandings for words and terminology.

I’m not an expert and you don’t have to be either

I am very much on a learning journey when it comes to understanding these approaches and concepts. 

I’m not Māori and I’m not claiming to be an expert.

But I have spent a long time thinking about how to:

  • Understand this content from my own perspective as a Pākeha – an indigenous New Zealander of European descent.
  • How to teach this stuff to other people who are just like me.

These concepts and ways of thinking have transformed how I think about learning, teaching, relationships and business in a multitude of ways. 

You don’t have to become an expert either, but the content here will do the same for you if you embrace and apply it.

Let’s get started…! Click here and we’ll be on the journey together. 


Get the companion eBook – Three Simple Approaches You Need for Learner Centred Teaching

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Author: Graeme Smith

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

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