The advantages of learner-centered teaching and the effects of student-centered learning far surpass any concerns one should have about implementing this model of instruction. The benefits of student-centered learning and characteristics of the learner-centered approach are distinct, yet easily manageable if applied properly.
The benefits of student-centered learning are proven with learner-centered approach examples and case studies.
One of the most challenging tasks in any classroom is fully meeting the needs of every student there. Teachers in the past several years have been expected to do more with less, meet an ever-evolving number of expectations (both realistic and unrealistic), and do so with class sizes increasing and basic materials decreasing.
Any student can be “on” or “off” on any given day (just like adults), but it is the expectation that the teacher can compensate for that. As a teacher, isn’t it somewhat difficult to do this if you are not having interactive experiences with each of your students?
This alone allows for the advantages of student-centered learning to outweigh any type of resistance to changing educational styles and allows the effects of student-centered learning to shine.
Discovering the Benefits of Student Centered Learning Firsthand
I remember when I first began teaching. All I knew was lecture, PowerPoint, any questions? This is how I was taught to teach and, minus adding in some technological elements, is how people had been teaching for years. I used to think, “How can I possibly talk to each of the 27 kids in my large classes AND get all this content taken care of?”.
It was overwhelming and the expectations seemed unrealistic, yet they were getting more intense each year that passed.
Then I discovered the benefits of a learner centered approach and the benefits of student centered learning.
In recent years, it is becoming more and more obvious that active learning is an effective strategy in terms of the benefits for a student. This teaching style that encourages active learners improves student behavior, test scores, and classroom management at an unprecedented level….but it needs to be implemented properly in order to succeed.
The Student Centered Learning Experience
There is so much interesting information surrounding the effects of student-centered learning theory. The central thesis of it all explains why student-led learning is the best possible way for the current generation to not just learn the basics, but to understand in-depth concepts and the information they will be facing moving forward in this world.
To sum it up, students having an active role in their subject matter, especially during class time, eliminates some difficult challenges in regards to students’ needs, engaging students, and is truly the first step to meeting the essential needs of learners.
Student-centered learning is one of the biggest “buzzes” in education currently. Truly though, the importance of student-centered learning is unparalleled with this generation of students in both private and public schools.
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Maybe you went to professional development and they spoke about the effects of student-centered learning, or perhaps your district is moving towards that model. Maybe you’ve heard about it and are wondering why the benefits of student centered learning are all the rage…or maybe you’ve even been working with the model but want to hone in on your craft. Whatever brought you here, it is important to understand the areas of growth when this model is used:
This is the biggest thing that has changed in education. The types of questions asked by students. How students are expected to think through information and develop their own paths to an answer following the guidance of a teacher as the “expert”, but as the learning facilitator as opposed to the “keeper of knowledge”. It truly changes everything when teachers can step back and expect student-centered learning to take place. Students become intrinsically motivated and will find the pathway toward learning and developing knowledge.
The teacher is no longer at front of the room lecturing and guiding students through content. Students work together to individually learn concepts, then come back as a group to discuss what was learned, how it can be applied to their lives moving forward, and develop those critical thinking skills that are so important in life. This isn’t traditional group work; there is an actual emphasis on detail and a team-based approach (that comes naturally, believe it or not!).
This changes the concept of the traditional teacher completely….and in terms of youth development and student learning, I would argue that it’s for the better.
It is not surprising when one thinks about student-centered learning and the critical thinking skills that develop in this model of learning, that problem-solving is a natural outcome. Students can no longer rely on someone else to tell them how to solve problems; they must identify what the issue is, find all avenues toward solving it, and then apply their critical thinking skills to find an answer that works for them.
The creativity that students use to move forward is incredible. Students working together, with help from their peers, generate a group-think mentality that can develop solutions in ways those individuals could not have been able to do on their own. Honing those problem-solving skills now will carry into adulthood as they enter the workforce and need to solve problems as a group.
The foundation for student-centered learning is cooperative learning as an educational approach. This way of teaching stresses using group tasks and projects, so students can work as a team to solve problems, think creatively as individuals and as a group, and advance the knowledge of the entire class by sharing their unique thoughts and ideas.
One of the biggest fears of a teacher when implementing student-centered learning is that academic achievement will drop. However, this is one of the largest misconceptions about student-centered learning. The opposite has been shown to be true: with students actively engaged in their own education and development, they are more likely to make progress towards their goals and rise to the occasion.
There are multiple tasks that student-centered learning stresses, including active participation in lessons and group discussion, collaboration with peers on projects, self-assessment of one’s own academic progress towards goals both in the classroom and out of the classroom, teacher facilitation of groups working together to develop knowledge, flexibility with how information is displayed to students (ie. PowerPoints, videos, books), and teaching that targets student’s individual needs.
All of these factors lead to higher achievement within the classroom and out of the classroom because students take what they learn and apply it in their own lives, leading them down a path toward successful academic achievement.
Where’s the “How”, not the “Why”?
Have you ever noticed that there isn’t any information out there that actually explains HOW to do it?
This could quite possibly be the most frustrating part of the idea behind student-centered learning. As teachers, it seems we hear from every possible authority that a student-centered model is the best way for our students to learn.
There is data backing it and just given the nature of Generation Z, it really does seem to make sense. The positive effects of student-centered learning far outweigh any negative issues.
The issue, however, isn’t that we know that it benefits our students; it is finding out simply “how” to do student-centered learning correctly.
A quick internet search will show you a ton of information about the benefits and principles of student centered learning. I am sure you have heard someone or another rave about how well students work with this approach, especially with lower levels of previous student achievement.
Maybe you’re skeptical like it’s too good to be true.
Is student-centered learning foolproof? No…not by a long stretch. It takes a lot of prep work and just like with any other method, sometimes a lesson will flop.
That’s the nature of teaching; however, the outcomes of student understanding far surpass those from a traditional class as the advantages of the learner-centered approach and the positive effects of student-centered learning are monumental for education.
There is a great article by Julie K. Brown (that can be found here) where she puts it perfectly:
“Put simply, student-centered instruction is when the planning, teaching, and assessment revolve around the needs and abilities of the students. The teacher shares control of the classroom, and students are allowed to explore, experiment, and discover on their own.”
If the thought of this just made you a tiny bit nauseous, fear not. I promise you this is ORGANIZED CHAOS and it is fabulous.
What is student-centered learning “like”?
Every student who walks through the doors is able to have their needs met at their exact level of ability and be the center of their own learning environment. It’s fascinating.
One of the great benefits of student-centered learning is that it doesn’t discriminate. It can be used effectively at any grade level in any subject.
By trade, I am a high school Social Studies teacher. When I tell my students on the first day of the semester that they will never watch one PowerPoint presentation or listen to me lecture via whole-class direct instruction, they can’t wrap their heads around it.
Granted, that’s when the “Stages of Grief” (as I like to call it) begin, but that is for another post. But the system works. I am constantly told at the end of the semester, “This was my favorite class!” and “I’ve never learned so much in a history class before”.
It’s contagious and, I would argue, one of the most effective ways of getting through to our current students and the most common learning style for them.
It involves creating a different mindset from all stakeholders…teachers, students, administrators, parents…you name it. There is an idea of what school is supposed to be, and student-centered classrooms being the center of learning throw all of that out the window.
The curriculum is looked at in a new light, and pedagogy and assessment are amended to work with each individual student in their own personal systems. Technology is utilized with best practices as opposed to being its own solitary focus….it is a tool, not a crutch.
Sometimes it is hard to wrap your head around why it is necessary to change what has been done in a classroom since formal education began, but the data on the effects of student-centered learning should be enough to at least want to give it a go.
Why is this student-centered model so great?
Think back to some of your favorite memories as a kid in any given school year. What popped into your head? Was it sitting in a traditional classroom, quietly taking notes? Or was it some type of project…or something interactive…or that teacher that thought WAY outside of the box?
Think of it this way….
Imagine if someone explained to you how to ride a bike. You read and learned everything you could and knew it inside and out. You get a traditional test afterward and could easily ace it explaining concepts and perhaps even drawing diagrams. You knew how to ride a bike.
But….could you actually ride a bike?
Some would argue that the point of the course wouldn’t necessarily be riding the bike, but knowing how to. Overall, is that what education is actually about? Don’t we want our students to actually GET IT, not just spit it back?
When a student inevitably rolls their eyes and says, “are we EVER going to have to actually know how to do this in real life?”, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to smile and say, “Well, if you need to be able to ride a bike, then yes.” (with the obvious equivalent to what is happening in the classroom).
These are just natural effects of student-centered learning.
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. Alexa or Siri can spit back any type of contextual questions we have (ad).
However, does having baseline knowledge actually help in the real world? How many times have we heard (or said) “When will we ever use this in life?”.
By taking the content and wrapping it into the student-centered model, it piques the student’s curiosity and allows them to dive deeper into the content, applying it to real-life scenarios and connecting at a much more intellectual level…..all “by accident”, as I like to call it. This is one of the greatest effects of student-centered learning in my opinion.
The teacher helps to develop these experiences and the students then take them and make them their own.
Something I heard recently really honed it in for me on why this isn’t just a method to dabble in, but the way of the future…
Really sit and consider that statement. Though the blue and white-collar jobs that have been around for ages will most likely still be viable options, most of our students will be taking on jobs that haven’t even been developed yet.
THAT is where we are as a society. Isn’t it our job as educators to prepare them for the “real world”?
Easy…prepare them to get their hands dirty and think critically. The best way to evolve that mindset? You guessed it….student-centered learning.
By creating the paradigm shift, the entire culture of learning can change. The effects of student-centered learning shine through. The expectation of what education is adapts to the changing times and culture that we live in. Students can use technology to complement them instead of controlling them.
Differentiation happens naturally and the students begin to learn at a deeper level than ever before without having to pull teeth. This prepares them for higher education and the workforce so much better than any type of passive learning model ever could.
Student-centered learning occurs when the teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage”. Whereas in a traditional classroom, the teacher is telling the students the specific content they need to know, in a student-centered classroom the students are taking that information and USING it, which develops a deeper understanding of the topic.
When your students are completing hands-on activities that have piqued their interest, your job is not to be instructing them on what to do, but to be facilitating their activities.
This is done by circulating around, sitting down with them, and having those one-on-one conversations. It is not done by trying to manage everyone at once in unison.
Changing the teacher’s role from a traditional approach
Another amazing effect of student-centered learning is having personalized relationships with every single student in your classroom, not just the class as a whole.
It alleviates the classroom management issues of having each student sit quietly and paying full attention to each detail you are trying to tell them is important. Let’s be honest….they’re not all in the same exact position in a number of different ways (intellectually, socially, emotionally, etc.), so why is the expectation that they will all be learning at the same level at the same time?
One of the main benefits of student-centered learning is that it is a method that naturally differentiates for each student in your classroom, giving the time and the tools that are best for them to be able to learn a specific concept.
The issue with why it is taking so long for student-centered learning to really catch on in a really mainstream way is that education has been pretty consistent for the past several decades.
There is a hierarchical idea of what the classroom looks like: the teacher is the one with the information and that information needs to be inserted into the brains of the students, thus the only way for this to happen is by the “sage on the stage” force-feeding content to students. This leads to burnt-out teachers, bored students, and frustrated parents because that methodology simply does not work in today’s society.
Frankly, Generation Z does not work this way. Shouldn’t we be amending our styles to be certain our students are learning best…not just sticking with something because it’s worked for others?
No, we should provide instruction based on the data and the positive effects of student-centered learning.
How student-centered learning benefits the class
Take away the realization that we are living in an ever-digital world. The idea that education needs to change stems from the concept that students cannot concentrate because their faces are perpetually on a screen.
While there is some validity to that, it isn’t the main focus of this change. LIFE is changing, SOCIETY is changing, and the WORKFORCE is changing in ways that it never has before. If the purpose of education is to prepare our youth for these next steps in life, we need to be certain we are doing that to their benefit.
In 2014, Jacob Morgan, Principal & Co-Founder of Chess Media Group, was featured in this Forbes article highlighting his book:
The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization (ad). In this article, he published the following graphic:
Image courtesy of Chess Media Group
Much of this graphic shows the distinct stereotype of what we have always known in the workforce, such as a 9-5 position, the work already being defined, and going to the office daily as ideas in the past.
The future ideas of an employee are already starting to become more commonplace, such as working remotely from any device, focusing on collaboration and adaptation, and work is customized to the situation at hand.
We’re currently in a place where both the past and the future are relevant, but as time progresses, more and more companies are seeing the ideas of the “future” as more sustainable for their needs and frankly, their bottom lines.
Due to this, the old way of teaching does not prepare our students for what awaits them in the real world. This is why we cannot ignore the effects of student-centered learning.
The Importance of Voice and Choice
By giving the students’ voice, choice, and somewhat allowing them to work at their own pace (depending on the nature of the activity), not only can you have more interactive experiences with each one of them on a personal level, but they are able to learn in a way that best suits them at a speed that works best for their own personal learning needs, which is what they deserve (ad). This is one of the key benefits of student centered learning.
Honestly, if you’re looking for a great read that will have you asking yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” when it comes to your classroom and your interactions with students, pick up a copy of “Kids Deserve It” by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome (ad). It is one of my favorite teaching books that really help keep your momentum going and reignites your passion for the classroom.
The outcomes and advantages of student-centered learning are astonishing. It seems like a scary leap to take, but once you see “that kid” participating or having a great contribution to a lesson or just improving their grade, it makes it all worthwhile. You simply cannot ignore the effects of student-centered learning.
It does not matter what level a student is on any of those “ways” I listed above…by giving them the leeway of the benefits of student centered learning environment, they are able to achieve more. This is especially the case with lower-income or otherwise disadvantaged students. Again, the student-centered learning benefits outweigh any trepidations to move forward.
In a study conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), the data concretely shows the benefit of this model for students who are underprivileged compared to their peers. In an article by Barbara McKenna (found here), the SCORE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond explains the data from this phenomenon best:
“The numbers are compelling…students in the study schools exhibited greater gains in achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college, and showed greater persistence in college. Student-centered learning proves to be especially beneficial to economically disadvantaged students and students whose parents have not attended college.”
For what we are expected to be able to do in the classroom as teachers, this is HUGE.
By just switching a frame of mind and the way instruction is driven, students who may struggle otherwise have the potential to actually surpass their peers in achievement. As an educator, anything that could have results like this has to be intriguing at the very least. After all, isn’t student achievement what we all wish to see in the end?
Truly, the advantages of student-centered learning benefits are easily noticeable the very first time someone tries it out in the classroom. See for yourself. The benefits of student centered learning far outweigh any negativity surrounding it. I encourage you to give it a try; the effects of student-centered learning will blow your mind.
This article was originally published in April 2018
Student-Centered World Podcast Transcript
Below is the transcript for the Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 42: “Making Your Teacher…and Personal…Life Easier”
Hey, friend, and welcome to another week of the Student-Centered World podcast where today I want to talk a little bit about why student-centered learning makes your life easier. Now, a lot of times when I try to explain that to teachers, especially ones that either isn’t as well versed in student-centered learning, or are very skeptical about student-centered learning, or are just in a place in their teaching career, I don’t think I need to define that place. I think you can probably understand what I mean by that.
But there is a lot of resistance in the thought that nothing can make this easier, nothing can make this better, it is what it is. Teaching has been the same way forever, it should still be that way, and so on and so forth. So today, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to explain to you why that is, in fact, not the case and why it is oh so different.
Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher-turned-consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.
Imagine coming into your classroom every day, relaxed, excited, ready to be the teacher that you always dreamed you would be. Your students walk in, and they immediately know what they need to do, and start getting to work. You’re able to chat with every single one of them with a meaningful conversation, be it about schoolwork, or life, or whatever the case may be.
You’re able to help the students that are struggling, you’re able to challenge the students that are doing really well, and your lessons are naturally differentiating for every single student in the classroom. Every student knows what they need to do. They know why they’re doing it and they are excited to complete the tasks that you have waiting for them.
For so many teachers, this sounds like some type of utopian classroom that does not exist in the world. But let me tell you that this is exactly how a truly student-centered classroom functions. It doesn’t matter if you are looking at kindergarteners, or middle schoolers, or high schoolers. Between my own experiences and watching those that I have trained, I have seen this play out in every grade level, with every level of student that there is.
Think about how much easier your life would be if your lesson plans and your grading and your students all worked together, and it gave you a renewed excitement to be in the classroom. It helped you be able to encourage your students the way you always dreamed to. It made it so your administrators wanted to know how you’re having your students achieve so much. Parents are excited and you actually have a life outside of the classroom. Imagine the possibilities.
They are possible when you switch to a student-centered classroom. I had one teacher-student in a Passion for Progress that was extremely resistant, still interested, still liked what I had to say, thought it was going to be a pipe dream that she was going to pay for this course. And it was just going to be another one for the books. I worked with her and she kept saying I don’t understand how this is going to work for younger children.
This seems like something that might work for high school students, certainly college, but I don’t understand how this is going to work for younger students. I kept telling her, just give it a chance. Give it a try. She worked herself through the course. She developed her lesson plans in the way that I explained to do it. She moved her classroom around and it worked beautifully.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard it’s working. It’s working and it’s going so well. We all get stressed. Okay, I don’t want to make this sound like it’s this crazy, you’re going to live in Cloud now, but it’s less. It’s the stress of a normal job. It’s the stress of your heart being in it too much. It’s the teacher tired that frankly won’t go away even if you’re a teacher.
But it’s not the mundane, it is not this level of boulders that are just resting on your shoulders and wondering how you’re going to make it through the school year and if you want to come back next year, and if you should change careers altogether. This is the missing piece that teachers who were burning out especially need to be able to just change some things around and fall in love with teaching again.
When I used to teach traditionally, I used to go home every single day, raspy with a sore throat, I would be exhausted. I would get home, I would have more grading to do, I would have more planning for the next day. Some days, I would have to go in early. Some days, I would have to stay home late. This is what I spent my weekends doing and then I discovered the process. Now granted, that process took me a really long time to figure out because there was nothing out there that actually explained how to do student-centered learning.
There was a lot that said that we should do students in our learning but there was nothing that said how to, but I saw the merits in it when I would have a little moment where the students were hands-on and I just saw how excited they got and how engaged they got, and how much more they learned than anything that I could have been directly instructing them with.
So, I knew there had to be so much to it. So, over time, I added, and I changed, and trial and error and tweak and tweak again and finally found this system which is what I put into a Passion for Progress. If nothing else, I found it absolutely unfair that teachers are expected to make these big changes.
To move to these student-centered models, for instance, without any guidance, and without anything out there actually saying okay, listen, I know that you’re really, really busy but this is how you do it from A to Z, all the pieces in between. Here are some templates. Here are some ideas, here are lists of plans, you can try. I took everything that I taught myself basically and put it into this course.
I used to have coworkers that would come in all the time and say how are you doing this? What are you doing differently? Your kids, they were all up and moving around when I walked by. There was so much noise, but you know, when I came in, or I asked them, they knew exactly what they’re talking about? How did you do it? I realized that I needed to take this and box it up in something that could help other teachers.
I know what it’s like to be exhausted and tired and wondering are you doing the right thing? Should you switch careers, I’ve asked all those questions of myself before. So, I wanted to take all of that and make it easier for as many teachers as I possibly can.
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know that I constantly say that I’m doing this because I want to help. I want to help as many teachers as I can, I want to make life easier, I want to make life better. I want to make your students more successful. By branching out and doing what I do now, I wasn’t just ensuring the success of the students in my classroom, I’m now also ensuring the success of the students in your classroom.
I wholeheartedly would love to be able to talk to every single teacher and analyze how they do things and help them make this switch because it’s a game-changer for your mental health, for your physical health, for your stress level, for your enjoyment of your career. Now we all have the moments, we all have the aha moments, and the things that make us this is the reason why I do what I do.
But imagine if you could have them more often, that the bad days no longer outweighed the good days that the bad moments were so much less in comparison to the good moments. Literally just switching up how you do things in the classroom makes that difference. The content isn’t different. What the students are learning isn’t different.
You are still completely and totally in charge of making sure that they are hitting the standards that they need to hit and learning the content that they need to learn but you’re doing it in a way that empowers them. It in turn empowers you like I can’t really explain it or put it into words more. But if you talk to anyone who’s gone through this process with me, they can vouch for the fact that like this changes the game, this gives you your life back. This gives just an element in the classroom that you can’t get in a more traditional manner.
Again, that’s what I want for you, because that’s what I want for every single teacher. This sounds like something that could be up your alley, I’d like to talk to you about it more, I’d like to have further conversations. You can reach out to me on Instagram or Facebook at Student-Centered World. You can join our Facebook mastermind group if you go into Facebook, and you just search up Student-Centered World mastermind. That’s what comes up. You can email me at, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to chat. I literally do this because I want to help. I want to help you, too.
Please don’t be shy. Don’t be nervous. Don’t think that I’m just saying this because it sounds good. If you have questions or comments or want to learn more, please reach out to me. At the very least, please make sure that you tune in next week at 9 am Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, where we’re going to chat a little bit more. But again, I got into this realm of education because I wanted to help as many teachers and students as I possibly could.
Again, I’d love for you to be part of that as well. So, please reach out to me and if not, I hope you enjoy the remainder of your weekend and next week.
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