Benefits of Student-Centered Learning According to Data

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The advantages of learner-centered teaching far surpass any concerns one should have about implementing this model of teaching.  The characteristics of the learner-centered approach are distinct, yet easily manageable if applied properly. If you’re trying to find student-centered learning examples, Student-Centered World has you covered.  Along with all the benefits of student centered learning, we also have a lot of tips and learner-centered approach examples.

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 to 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.

Teacher sitting at desk, rubbing temple, looking complete exhausted under the question, "Are you ready to find a positive balance in the classroom for you and your students?" due to the benefits of student-centered learning

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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 here 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 the learner centered approach.

Why Student-Centered Learning?

You have probably heard rumors about student-centered learning theory and how great it is in the classroom for our current student body.  But why is student-centered learning effective?

There is so much interesting information surrounding student-centered learning theory that 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.

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.

Maybe you went to professional development and they spoke about it, or perhaps your district is moving towards that model. Maybe you’ve heard about it and are wondering why student-centered learning…or maybe you’ve even been working with the model but want to hone in on your craft.

little girl on stomach with her head in her hands, smiling

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But 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 issue, however, isn’t that we know that it benefits our students; it is finding out simply “how” to do student-centered learning correctly.

Fortunately, this is the entire reason why Student-Centered World exists….to fill that gap in knowledge and make it easier for each and every teacher to move to this model without skipping a beat.

A quick internet search will show you a ton of information about the benefits of a student-centered learning environment. I am sure you have heard someone or another rave about how well students work with this approach.

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 is 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.

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What is student-centered learning “like”?

A student-centered classroom might be loud, but it helps create an environment that naturally differentiates for each student and allows them to leave a more traditional, passive role in the classroom.

They are active participants in the learning process and orchestrate their own discovery of information. They are given choice and voice with what works for their learning as individuals and what they need in order to be successful.

Every student who walks through the doors is able to have their needs met at their exact level of ability. It’s fascinating.

The great thing about 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 Social Studies teacher. When I tell my students on the first day of the semester they will never watch one PowerPoint presentation or listen to me lecture, they can’t wrap their head around it.

Granted, that’s when the “Stages of Grief” (as I like to call it) begins, 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.

Two little boys sitting in white shirts and blue jeans playing with a tin can telephone over the caption, "why student-centered learning works" and the benefits of student-centered learning

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 throw all of that out the window.

The curriculum is looked at in a new light, 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.

Why is this student-centered model so great?

Think back to some of your favorite memories as a kid in school. 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.

Woman rides bike down a beautiful, autumn tree lined road with arms to the side, very carefree, next to the caption, "could you ride a bike without actually 'doing' it?"

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).

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.

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.

Little boy and girl giving excited thumbs up after finishing an art project above the caption, "the best way to prepare our students for the future that awaits them is by implementing student-centered learning" and the benefits of student-centered learning

By creating the paradigm shift, the entire culture of learning can change. 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 peaked their interests, 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.

It alleviates the classroom management issues of having each student sitting quietly and paying full attention to each detail you are trying to tell them is important. Let’s be honest….they’re not all at 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.

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The issue with why it is taking so long for student-centered learning to really catch on in a really mainstream way is because 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?

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:

Graphic shows 11 points of the evolution of employee expectations from the past and into the future

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 area 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.

Young professional in suit points to the question "are your students truly preparing for the world that awaits them?"

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). 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.

Cover of the book "Kids Deserve It" by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

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.

It does not matter what level a student is on any of those “ways” I listed above…by giving them the leeway of the student-centered 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 phenomena 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 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.

24 thoughts on “Benefits of Student-Centered Learning According to Data

  1. I do remember the days of when the teacher stood in front of the class, lectured, and assigned the seat work! A more student-centered approach prepares students for the many distractions and challenges of adulthood. Students will gain a better understanding of their own learning styles and increases self-esteem, as well! Thanks for a well written article!

  2. I love the idea of student centered learning. In my opinion this is one of the best ways to ensure the students are actively thinking. Too often that “sage on the stage” you refer to spoon-feeds students information and the students simply memorize facts. Very little learning and thinking happens because students are simply doing what the teacher told them to do.

  3. This is such an interesting article! As a special education teacher, I am constantly exploring new ways to engage my students and help them reach their fullest potential. This was very informative. I have a lot of student-centered learning in my K-5 resource room now, but I’d love to hear about more potential lessons and activities!

    1. Awesome! My focus for the next several months is to rock Teachers Pay Teachers. Make sure you sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date with what we have 🙂

  4. Wow! I found this post to be so helpful in understand exactly what student centered learning is and why it is so important. Thank you for inspiring me to dig deeper into this topic and how I can apply it to my own teaching. I can’t wait to continue to learn more and will be back for more ideas and strategies!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with this! Students learn more by discovering and doing than by being told. It is much different than the way we were taught as students, but a shift that more should definitely consider!

    1. I think the biggest hang-up with teachers who don’t want to make the switch is because it’s not the way they were taught. Our students are very different than any generation before them, and our teaching needs to reflect that.

  6. I totally agree!
    As a “seasoned” educator, I find this method the most efficient and beneficial way to meet all student needs. The Student-Centered Learning environment is truly differentiating!

    1. Yes! It naturally differentiates for every single student in the classroom when implemented properly. What other method of teaching can do that?

  7. I agree that student-led teaching is more beneficial. We use it at home when our children are infants; watching their interests and using them to build sounds, words, teach shapes, letters, colors, etc. As parents, we know that what interests our child is a great motivator to learn. This concept doesn’t change as they get older. I appreciate your research and the data you included. This is a great article!

    1. Exactly…and when they’re little is when they’re learning so much! We need to cultivate that and keep it going throughout their school years.

  8. I so agree with everything that you said here! As educators we need to focus on student needs and let the lessons be interactive and engaging. We also need to let students take control too. While teaching I look for things they enjoy and things they need to learn and merge it together to really speak to and inspire my students.

    1. One of the aspects of student-centered teaching to remember is to be flexible with your lesson plan. If you see something working for your students, run with it! If you don’t, change it. How else will your students find their way to complete engagement, right?

  9. Thanks for writing such a well-researched and thoughtful article – definitely needed when it can be difficult to actually put student-centered learning into practice! I teach 1:1 online ESL lessons and while the format makes it easier to put the student first, there’s still sometimes the pressure to finish the slides, etc. despite the student’s level. I’ll have to brainstorm more on how to put their needs before just covering every question on every slide!

  10. A student centered learning environment is so pivotal to the learning process! I remember, as a child, sitting in rows and being assigned worksheet after worksheet. I’m so glad we’ve moved out of that phase in education!

  11. What a wonderful article. I totally agree we need to let our students take a larger role in the learning process. When we create student-centered lessons we allow students to learn more and teach each other. Our job as teachers should be to push students into the driver’s seat and we need to ride along and help them if they need it.

  12. Making my room student centered was always a must because kindergarten kiddos function best that way. Voice and choice makes a huge difference! Thanks for the book recommendations! I haven’t read those yet!

  13. Switching to student-centered learning in my classroom has allowed me to differentiate my instruction to better meet the needs of all my students. I’m able to get to know them and use their strengths and interests to make my lessons more engaging. This is a wonderful post and will hopefully encourage other teachers to make the switch.

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