Student-centred learning

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Student-Centered Learning represents both a mindset and a culture within a given educational institution and is a learning approach which is broadly related to, and supported by, constructivist theories of learning. It is characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and other learners and which take students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking.[1]

Student-centered learning, that is, putting students' interests first, is in contrast to traditional education, by proponents of "student-centered learning" also dubbed "teacher-centred learning". Student-centered learning is focused on each student's interests, abilities, and learning styles, placing the teacher as a facilitator of learning. This classroom teaching method acknowledges student voice as central to the learning experience for every learner, and differs from many other learning methodologies. In a student-centred classroom, students choose what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will assess their own learning. Teacher-centred learning has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role. In a teacher-centred classroom, teachers choose what the students will learn, how the students will learn, and how the students will be assessed on their learning. Student-centred learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their own learning and with their own pace of learning.


In traditional education methodologies, teachers direct the learning process and students assume a receptive role in their education. Armstrong (2012) claimed that "traditional education ignores or suppresses learner responsibility". With the advent of progressive education in the 19th century, and the influence of psychologists, some educators have largely replaced traditional curriculum approaches with "hands-on" activities and "group work", in which a child determines on their own what they want to do in class. Key amongst these changes is the premise that students actively construct their own learning. Theorists like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, whose collective work focused on how students learn, is primarily responsible for the move to student-centred learning. Carl Rogers' ideas about the formation of the individual also contributed to student-centred learning. Student-centred learning means inverting the traditional teacher-centred understanding of the learning process and putting students at the centre of the learning process. Maria Montessori was also an influence in centre-based learning, where preschool children learn through independent self-directed interaction with previously presented activities.

Student-centred learning allows students to actively participate in discovery learning processes from an autonomous viewpoint. Students spend the entire class time constructing a new understanding of the material being learned in a proactive way. A variety of hands-on activities are administered in order to promote successful learning. Unique, yet distinctive learning styles are encouraged in a student-centred classroom, and provide students with varied tools, such as task- and learning-conscious methodologies, creating a better environment for students to learn.[2] With the use of valuable learning skills, students are capable of achieving lifelong learning goals, which can further enhance student motivation in the classroom. Self-determination theory focuses on the degree to which an individual’s behaviour is self-motivated and 'self-determined'. Therefore, when students are given the opportunity to gauge their learning, learning becomes an incentive. In being active agents in their learning, students corroborate Carl Rogers' theory that "the only learning which significantly influences behaviour [and education] is self discovered".[3] Because learning can be seen as a form of personal growth, students are encouraged to utilize self-regulation practices in order to reflect on his or her work. For that reason, learning can also be constructive in the sense that the student is in full control of his or her learning. Over the past few decades, a paradigm shift in curriculum has occurred where the teacher acts as a facilitator in a student-centred classroom.

Such emphasis on learning has enabled students to take a self-directed alternative to learning. In the teacher-centred classroom, teachers are the primary source for knowledge. Therefore, the focus of learning is to gain information as it is proctored to the student, providing rationale as to why rote learning or memorization of teacher notes or lectures was the norm a few decades ago. On the other hand, student-centred classrooms are now the norm where active learning is strongly encouraged. Students are now researching material pertinent to the success of their academia and knowledge production is seen as a standard. In order for a teacher to facilitate a student-centred classroom, he or she must become aware of the diverse backgrounds of his or her learners. To that end, the incorporation of a few educational practices such as Bloom's Taxonomy and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple intelligences can be beneficial to a student-centred classroom because it promotes various modes of diverse learning styles, thereby accommodating the varied learning styles of students. The following provides a few examples of why student-centred learning should be integrated into the curriculum:

  • Strengthens student motivation
  • Promotes peer communication
  • Reduces disruptive behaviour
  • Builds student-teacher relationships
  • Promotes discovery/active learning
  • Responsibility for one’s own learning

These changes have impacted educator's methods of teaching and the way students learn. In essence, one might say that we teach and learn in a constructivist-learning paradigm. It is important for teachers to acknowledge the increasing role and function of his or her educational practices to work within their own biases, and create a student-centred environment. As educational practices evolve, so does the approach to teaching and learning. The mindset about teaching and learning is constantly evolving into new and innovative ways to reach diverse learners, and is impacted by new research and inquiry such as Gardner and Denig's dialogue on multiple intelligences. When a teacher allows their students to make inquiries or even set the stage for his or her academic success, learning becomes more productive.

A further distinction from a teacher-centred classroom to that of a student-centred classroom is when the teacher acts as a facilitator, as opposed to instructor. In essence, the teacher’s goal in the learning process is to guide students into making new interpretations of the learning material, thereby 'experiencing' content, reaffirming Rogers' notion that "significant learning is acquired through doing".[4]

In terms of curriculum practice, the student has the choice in what they want to study and how they are going to apply their newfound knowledge. According to Ernie Stringer, “Student learning processes are greatly enhanced when they participate in deciding how they may demonstrate their competence in a body of knowledge or the performance of skills.” This pedagogical implication enables the student to establish his or her unique learning objectives, and mate them to their specific learning biases and needs. This aspect of learning holds the learner accountable for production of knowledge that he or she is capable of producing. In this stage of learning, the teacher evaluates the learner by providing honest and timely feedback on individual progress. Building a rapport with students is an essential strategy that educators could utilize in order to gauge student growth in a student-centred classroom. Through effective communication skills, the teacher is able to address student needs, interests, and overall engagement in the learning material, creating a feedback loop that encourages self-discovery and education. According to James Henderson, there are three basic principles of democratic living, which he says are not yet established in our society in terms of education. The three basic tenets, which he calls the 3S’s of teaching for democratic living, are:

  • (Subject Learning)- Students learn best from subject matter thoughtfully presented.
  • (Self-Learning)- One must engage oneself in the generative process.
  • (Social Learning)- Empathy is wealth in this regard, social interaction with diverse others the target for generosity.

Through peer-to-peer interaction, collaborative thinking can lead to an abundance of knowledge. In placing a teacher closer to a peer level, knowledge and learning is enhanced, benefitting the student and classroom overall. According to Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), students typically learn vicariously through one another. Through a socio-cultural perspective on learning, scaffolding is important when fostering independent thinking skills. Vygotsky proclaims, "Learning which is oriented toward developmental levels that have already been reached is ineffective from the view point of the child's overall development. It does not aim for a new stage of the developmental process but rather lags behind this process." In essence, instruction is designed to access a developmental level that is measurable to the student’s current stage in development.

Teacher-directed instructions[edit]

In teacher-directed instruction:

  • Students work to achieve curricular objectives in order to become critical thinkers
  • Students complete activities designed by the teacher to achieve academic success
  • Students respond to positive expectations set by the teacher as they progress through activities
  • Students are given extrinsic motivators like grades and rewards which motivates children to internalize information and objectively demonstrates their understanding of concepts
  • Student work is evaluated by the teacher

A teacher-directed approach to learning recognizes that children require achievable expectations and that students must have a solid foundation before learning a new concept. For example, in order to learn multiplication properly, a student must understand repeated addition and grouping. This process cannot be discovered by most students without the direction of a teacher.

Implementation considerations[edit]

To implement a student-centred learning environment, attention must be given to the following aspects of learning:

  • What the child is curious about learning
  • Teaching strategies to accommodate individual needs: intellectual,emotional
  • Student's social needs: collaboration, communication, peer approval
  • Curriculum goals overall

Because the focus is on individual students rather than whole class structures, teachers often offer choices and adaptations within lessons, which empowers student growth. This is a role teachers must be comfortable with if they are to implement a student-centred learning environment. To be considered a student-centred learning environment it has to be open, dynamic, trusting, respectful, and promote children's subjective as well as objective learning styles. Students may collaborate in hands-on problems and draw their own conclusions, or develop their own learning based on self-direction. This experiential learning involves the whole child—their emotions, thoughts, social skills, and intuition. The result of student-centred learning is a person who arguably develops self-confident and critical thinking..

Assessment of student-centred learning[edit]

One of the most critical differences between student-centred learning and teacher-centred learning is in assessment. In student-centred learning, students participate in the evaluation of their learning. This means that students are involved in deciding how to demonstrate their learning. Developing assessment that supports learning and motivation is essential to the success of student-centred approaches. One of the main reasons teachers resist student-centred learning is the view of assessment as problematic in practice. Since teacher-assigned grades are so tightly woven into the fabric of schools, expected by students, parents and administrators alike, allowing students to participate in assessment is somewhat contentious.

Application to higher-education[edit]

The student-centred learning environment has been shown to be effective in higher education.

A certain university sought to promote student-centred learning across the entire university by employing the following methods:

  • Analysis of good practice by award-winning teachers, in all faculties, to show that, they made use of active forms of student learning.
  • Subsequent use the analysis to promote wider use of good practice.
  • A compulsory teacher training course for new junior teachers, which encouraged student-centred learning.
  • Projects funded through teaching development grants, of which 16 were concerned with the introduction of active learning experiences.
  • A programme-level quality enhancement initiative which utilised a student survey to identify strengths and potential areas for improvement.
  • Development of a model of a broadly based teaching and learning environment influencing the development of generic capabilities, to provide evidence of the need for an interactive learning environment.
  • The introduction of programme reviews as a quality assurance measure (Kember, 2009).

The success of this initiative was evaluated by surveying the students. After two years the mean ratings indicating the students' perception of the quality of the teaching and learning environment at the university all rose significantly (Kember, 2009).

The success of the initiative at the university in this study indicates that by adapting a more student-oriented approach to education, the students will enjoy a more positive learning experience which will likely help them develop greater passion for learning and lead to more success in their learning endeavours. As well, this approach involves students in their overall education, creating a proactive involvement in learning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Attard, Angele; Iorio, Emma Di; Geven, Koen; Santa, Robert (2014). Student-Centered Learning SCL Toolkit. Brussels: European Students' Union. 
  2. ^ Smith, M. K. (2003). Learning theory. The encyclopedia of informal education. Available at
  3. ^ Kraft, R. G. (1994). Bike riding and the art of learning. In L. B. Barnes, C. Roland Christensen, & A. J. Hansen (Eds.), Teaching and the case method. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, Pg. 41
  4. ^ Kraft, R. G. (1994). Bike riding and the art of learning. In L. B. Barnes, C. Roland Christensen, & A. J. Hansen (Eds.), Teaching and the case method. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, Pg. 41


  • Armstrong, J.S. (2012). Natural Learning in Higher Education. Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Heidelberg: Springer
  • Bloom, Benjamin. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Susan Fauer Company, Inc.
  • Denig, S. J. (2004). Multiple intelligences and learning styles: Two complementary dimensions. Teachers College Record, 106(1), 96-111. Available at
  • Douglas, K. & Jaquith, D. (2009). Engaging learners through artmaking: Choice-based art education in the classroom. New York, Teachers College Press.
  • Estes, Cheryl. (2004). Promoting Student-Centred Learning in Experiential Education. Journal of Experiential Education, 27(2), pp. 141–161.
  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determinaton in human behaviour. New York: Pienum.
  • Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
  • Henderson, J.G. (1992). Reflective teaching: Professional artistry through inquiry. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
  • Iyoshi, Toru, Hannafin, Micaheal & Wang, Feng. (2005). Cognitive Tools and Student-centred Learning: Rethinking Tools,Functions and Applications. Educational Media International, 42(4), pp. 281–296.
  • Kember, David. (2009). Promoting student-centred forms of learning across an entire university. "Higher Education, 58"(1), pp. 1–13.
  • Motschnig-Pitrik, R. & Holzinger, A. (2002). Student-Centred Teaching Meets New Media: Concept and Case Study. Educational Technology & Society, 5(4), pp. 160–172. Available online at
  • Pedersen, Susan & Williams, Doug. (2004). A Comparison of Assessment Practices and Their Effects on Learning and Motivation in a Student-Centred Learning Environment. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(3), pp. 283–307.
  • Pedersen, Susan & Liu, Min. (2003). Teachers' Beliefs About Issues in the implementation of a Student-Centred Learning Environment. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 51(2), pp. 57–74. Available online at
  • Stringer, E. (2008). Action research in education. (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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