Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learner-Centered Education

By CynDee Zandes
This article is written by a member of our expert blogging community.

As a principal I heard teachers say, “I taught it.  I don’t know why the students didn’t do better on the quiz.”  The problem with this statement is twofold.  The first is this:  How is it possible to “teach” something if no one “learned” anything?  The second is that this comment is from the perspective of what has occurred from the teacher’s vantage point instead of what has occurred from the students’ or the learner’s point of view.

It seems to me that teaching and learning form a yin and a yang.  They are reciprocal—like “wax on, wax off."  Some sort of teaching must occur to result in learning, and some sort of learning must occur to verify that teaching took place.  Learning can be with an expert who knows something (like a teacher), an experience that has hands-on engagement, an Aha! moment that occurs because the learner has some sort of epiphany which is usually a result of previous experiences that suddenly connect in our schema.  To say that I taught and no learning took place is to negate the act of teaching.  You could say you presented information, that you guided an experience, which did not result in someone else learning.  However, if you think about it, that can create space for your personal learning.  Thomas Edison was once asked if he felt like a failure because he had tried so many times to invent the light bulb but had been unsuccessful.  He replied that of course he didn’t feel like a failure, he had learned over 10,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb.  The teacher who embraces the notion that if a lesson doesn’t result in student learning, he or she didn’t teach for that particular student, can also be open to learning a “new” or “different way of teaching so learning can result.  

For example, as a teacher who is using a lecture approach, the decision could be made to rely on active rather passive learning.  If that doesn’t work, then perhaps the teacher can engage the learner into taking more responsibility for his or her own learning.  Or a teacher might choose to increase the learner’s sense of autonomy or stress the interdependence between the teacher and the learner.  In other words, when the teacher (usually the one with more experience and knowledge) decides that the results for the learner are what is really important, then the teacher will embrace and practice learner-centered education—even when the learner is the teacher him or herself.  


"[Everyone] is both a learner and a student - a unique opportunity for all."

If the emphasis is transferred from what is taught to what is learned, then staff development becomes a strategy to ensure that learning, in a variety of modalities, is made available to students.  The vantage point becomes the students’, and that will result in creating a space for both youth and adults to learn.  In this space, everyone is both learner and student—a unique opportunity for all.

What do you think about learner-centric education?  Is it really possible to have a School of One?

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Smile Moon