Student-Centered Learning

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The term student-centered learning is a synonym for a wide variety of educational strategies generally known as personalized learning or personalization (among many other possible terms). While educators may define the terms differently from school to school, the fundamental educational objectives will likely be largely consistent. However, there is one important distinction in meaning that can be addressed here.

The term student-centered learning most likely arose in response to educational decisions that did not fully consider what students needed to know or what methods would be most effective in facilitating learning for individual students or groups of students. When used by educators or education reformers, student-centered learning typically refers to proposed alternatives to existing or more traditional approaches to schooling that some educators would view as being either “teacher-centered” or “school-centered.” For example, teachers might decide to teach students in ways that are easy, familiar, or personally preferred, but that might not work well for some students or use instructional techniques shown to be most effective for improving learning. Similarly, schools are often organized and managed in ways that work well for the organization, but that might not reflect the most effective ways to educate students. For example, it’s far more manageable—from an institutional, administrative, or logistical perspective—if all students are being taught in classrooms under the supervision of teachers, if they are given a fixed set of course options to choose from, if they all use the same textbooks and learning resources, and if their education unfolds according to a predetermined schedule.

Advocates of student-centered learning and more personalized approaches to education want to challenge or overturn these common educational tendencies by making student learning the primary objective in schools—i.e., all considerations that do not in some way improve or facilitate student learning would become secondary (or lower) in importance. The basic rationale is that schools should be designed to enhance student learning, not improve organizational efficiency. Of course, there is a lot of debate about the best ways to accomplish such an ambitious goal.