Learner-centered teaching

September 19, 2012

One of my colleagues shared with me the 5 key changes required to be more learner-centered in your teaching. Here is a detailed review of the book by Maryellen Weimer. As someone who was in college 20 years ago, the world and user expectations has changed in many dramatic ways, and, as an instructor, I need to be aware of how I can make what I teach matter more to students.  Here are the changes discussed by Weimer: 

  • changes in the balance of power
  • changes in the function of course content
  • changes in the role of the teacher
  • changes in who is responsible for learning
  • changes in the purpose and process of evaluation.

 Here is part of my response to the colleague:

These changes really makes a lot of sense.  I think students expect things to be much different from in “our day.”  Which means, we have to recognize that and incorporate it.  I like the facilitating role of a teacher (#1-Role of teacher)—bringing their experiences in to guide students.  I listened to a TED talk last week which featured a teacher who gives his 4th graders an assignment (something like they all have to represent countries and they get $$ and have real world scenarios—4th graders!!!)  Anyway, they were able to solve problems with the teacher only providing minimal guidance. …giving students real-life problem solving and putting the responsibility on them to research and come up with solutions (#4-responsibility for learning) resonates more as a learning experience.

#2 and #3 from Maryellen are key to this—the teacher has to come up with creative ways to deliver the true learning they want to occur.  They may not cover or control things as much as in the past, but the students learn real strategies for coping in today’s world.

#5 from Maryellen should be a combination—the teacher may still need to control this (evaluation) to some extent, but if you have ever done peer reviewing in a class, fellow students can be brutal if they think you aren’t towing the line.  And sometimes, the idea that they will be judged by their peers resonates louder than by one of us…

It is, of course, a very different world from where many of us grew up.  The teacher assigned lessons as homework, you read it and did the questions or summary, or prepared for a quiz in class.  The teacher spent most of the time lecturing and the student would write notes and ask questions.  Because the world is changing, expectations are/can also change.  Many teachers are starting to implement a “flipped instruction” model, where:

“…Information transfer (i.e., a teacher transferring knowledge to students) takes place in advance, typically through online lectures. In short, students study before rather than after class.” –Michael Rutter (above link)

To implement what Weimer talks about, it is necessary for the instructor to give up some of the balance of power and control.  This can be great for students, but it certainly is a delicate balance.

Have you heard of anyone using the flipped instruction or learner-centered teaching methods?  I am excited to see how these work and if they can be a model for the future.  Students need to have some real-world experience, working in teams, and solving problems.  They need to feel that the education they get is really a learning experience, not just a series of memorization and cramming.

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