Learner-centered instruction is a term that has been used in education for several decades now. One of the challenges of extremely popular terms in a field such as learner-centered instruction is that the term loses its meaning as people throw it into a discussion without knowing exactly what the term means.
The purpose of this post is to try and explain some of the characteristics of learner-centered instruction without being exhaustive. In addition, we will look at the challenges to this philosophy as well as ways to make it happen in the classroom.
Focus on the Students
Learner-centered instruction is focused on the students. What this means is that the teacher takes into account the learning goals and objectives of the students in establishing what to teach. This requires the teacher to conduct at least an informal needs assessment to figure out what the students want to learn.
Consultation with the students allows for the students to have some control over their learning which is empowering as viewed by those who ascribe to critical theory. Consultation also allows students to be creative and innovative. This sounds like a perfect learning situation but to be this centered on the learner can be difficult
Challenge of Learner-Centered Instruction
Since the learning experience is determined by the students, the teacher does not have any presupposed plan in place prior to consulting with the students. As such, not having a plan in place beforehand is extremely challenging for new teachers and difficult even for experienced ones. The teacher doesn’t know what to expect in terms of the needs of the students.
In theory, almost no class follows such a stringent approach to learner-centered instruction. Most schools have to meet government requirements, prepare students for the workplace, and or show improvements in testing. This limits the freedom of the teacher to be learner-centered in many ways. External factors cannot be ignored to adhere to the philosophy of learner-centered instruction.
Finding a Compromise
One way to be learner-centered while still having some sort of a plan prior to teaching is to rethink the level at which the students have a voice in the curriculum. For example, if it is not possible to change the objectives of a course, the teacher can have the students develop the assignments they want to do to achieve an objective.
The teacher could also allow the students to pick from several different assignments that all help to achieve the same objective(s). This gives the students some control over their learning while allowing the teacher to adhere to external requirements. It also allows the teacher to be prepared in some way prior to the teaching.
The average educator does not have the autonomy to give to students to allow for the full implementation of learner-centered instruction. However, there are several ways to adjust one’s approach to teaching that will allow students to have a sense of control over their learning.