There is much talk today concerning the movement from teacher centered education, “the sage on the stage” as identified in an earlier posting on this blog, and student centered learning. From my perspective, student centered learning encapsulates many of the issues that we have been discussing on this blog and at our Faculty forums. Let me begin by identifying my view of learner-centered education.
To me, student-centered learning relies on the identification of the experiences, interests, capacities and needs of the students as the starting point of the educational experience. Based on this view of the learners, the learning focus then must include the best theories of learning and practice that are effective in promoting high levels of motivation, confidence and achievement Concretely, again from my perspective, there are four concepts that I believe are needed to support learner centered education.
- Each learner’s life experience, environment, culture, interests, goals, and beliefs need be identified and respected to create independent thinkers.
- Unique differences such as emotional perspectives, learning styles, rates of learning, talents, confidence and motivation must be addressed to promote the highest achievement.
- Real life learning activities must help learners connect new learning with prior knowledge and experiences. This produces better learning.
- An environment with positive interpersonal interactions facilitates the learner to feel acknowledged, respected, and validated (Henson, 2003).
To identify the perspectives and frames of references for each of the student, WebCT’s student profile module is used. Each student completes a personal introduction template and posts their picture with the profile. This exercise is followed by a personal, in class introduction where classmates can ask questions of the presenter. I model the interaction by asking elucidating comments and supporting areas that are identified and have individual classmates offer support or connect to the life events. To enhance this self understanding, the discussion module is used on a weekly basis where course concepts are applied to either the family, community or work environment with connection to their personal learning. To promote positive interaction, each student must academically critique or support the discussion posts of at least two of their classmates. My experience indicates that students will continue the discussions during class to gain clarity. My role in the discussions is minimal except to redirect if discussions are off target or if concepts are used incorrectly and no other student has intervened to make the needed adjustment. This outside the class interaction provides a context for my face to face interactions during the time available during the Saturday classes.
I believe we all learn differently. The WebCT, the Electronic White Boards, and the Notes software can help to address these styles. I find that students who have great concerns about understanding a concept, assignment, or a work situation will use WebCT, e-mail, a messenger service to address their concerns, more readily that using the phone. To address learning rates, Web CT offers the possibility of learners being able to supplement their classroom interaction with non synchronization use of resources that are provided to clarify and intensify the understanding of course content. For instance, I have a “Current Events” discussion section where students discuss how concepts that were raised and discussed in class are viewed in the real world through press and academia. Using the White Board in conjunction with small group discussions/case studies/problem based learning provides an opportunity for individual student to exercise their various learning styles. Visual learning is facilitated by the students posting, finding, and noting critiques and finalizing group positions. These visual presentations can be saved and forwarded for either future discussion or a lesson summary. More time is spent in the higher learning activities --analysis, synthesis and evaluation-- with the materials being posted. Students use the linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal intelligences in organizing, designing and explaining and working with the group findings.
Real Life Learning and its connection to prior learning and experience
All content of the course is applied to the real life activities of the adult students. In Year One of the MHSP, all system concepts that are discussed are applied to the Master of Human Services program. These concepts are personalized when students apply and discuss themselves as systems and how they fit in with their families, work place and the MHSP. Since students enter the program often with the goal of being promoted in their agencies or organizations, real life examples or case studies generate enthusiasm.
To facilitate a positive interpersonal environment and to develop meaningful personal relationships, the classroom is divided into learning clusters of 5 or 6 students. Tables are organized into squares so students can face each other and interact. Class time is divided between small group, large group and mini lectures that present material and set context for projects. Learning clusters work with each other around understanding and applying concepts on a weekly basis. In addition, the clusters are assigned a group project which requires research, analysis and a 30 minute presentation using appropriate multimedia to engage their classmates. All presentations are evaluated verbally by classmates and the instructor after completion, and each group is provided with a written evaluation and grade developed by the instructor.
Henson, K. T. (2003). Foundations for learner-centered education: A knowledge base. Education, 124(1), 5+.
McCombs, B. L., & Whisler, J. S. (1997). The learner centered classroom and school. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers.