Definition of Learner Centered Teaching
While you are probably already well aware of the general concept of learner centered teaching, let me clarify what I mean by it by offering this definition.
Learner centered teaching means subjecting every teaching activity (method, assignment or assessment) to the test of a single question: “Given the context of my students, course and classroom, will this teaching action optimize my students’ opportunity to learn?”
Optimizing learning opportunities for 200 students is likely to be different than for 20, so the context of the course plays a significant role in the actions a teacher can take. I choose the word opportunity because that is all any teacher can provide for their students. Great teachers maximize the opportunities for students to learn, but even the greatest teachers cannot guarantee learning. The final outcome of what gets learned in any course will always be the students’ responsibility.
This simple but powerful question asks us to rethink each and every aspect of our course planning and decision making to see if it will optimize our students’ learning opportunities. For example, if an instructor usually gives three exams and a cumulative final as the only measures for assigning grades she might, using this question, ask: Is the use of three exams and a final the best way to find out what my students have learned? Is it the optimal way for each student to show me what they know? Are there better forms of evaluation that would promote students’ learning and give summative feedback? Do these exams promote long term learning of this material? Each of these questions represents a slightly different aspect of optimizing students’ learning. Some address the purpose of evaluations, some focus on their effectiveness, and others prompt thinking about the best way to do evaluation. The point is that reflecting on whether or not a given teaching action is the best way to optimize students’ learning is a starting point for improving the opportunity for learning. The reasons for using three exams and a final is often that it is convenient for the instructor, that it gives rise to few complaints from students, or that the class has always been conducted this way. None of these reasons meet the test of optimizing students’ learning.