Friday, February 26, 2010

Learner Centered Education

Guest Blogger: Frank Worts

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.

  1. Each learner’s life experience, environment, culture, interests, goals, and beliefs need be identified and respected to create independent thinkers.
  2. Unique differences such as emotional perspectives, learning styles, rates of learning, talents, confidence and motivation must be addressed to promote the highest achievement.
  3. Real life learning activities must help learners connect new learning with prior knowledge and experiences. This produces better learning.
  4. An environment with positive interpersonal interactions facilitates the learner to feel acknowledged, respected, and validated (Henson, 2003).

So how would one address these five concepts in creating a learning centered environment at Lincoln University? From my perspective, the overarching prospective to accomplish this perspective is that the Masters of Human Services Program (MHSP) has to be extended beyond the Graduate Center Classroom environment to the adult students’ personal life, family life, community life, and their work and environmental realities. WebCT (or other good course management system) provide useful tools to expand the classroom to better engage the adult student in applying the MHSP content to their multiple environments. I will attempt to address how the above four concepts are integrated into the Introduction of Applied Sociology & General Systems Theory of the (MHSP), and perhaps generate some discussion that positively addresses our undergraduate and graduate students educational experiences at Lincoln.

Student Perspectives and Frames of Reference

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.

Learning styles and intelligences, emotional, developmental and learning rate differences

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.

A Positive Environment through Interpersonal Relationships

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.

Do these personal applications have applicability to education practices across the university? If so let’s dialogue.


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.


  1. Thanks, Frank, for such a content-rich posting!

    One of the questions it raised for me centered on the fourth concept you discuss: "An environment with positive interpersonal interactions." My question is whether students can get that sort of validating interpersonal relationship if the class is held totally online or whether at least some face-to-face interaction is required. It might be a generational thing but the adult students I work with really engage one another (and class topics) in a classroom in a way that I can't get them to do online. Maybe it's easier? Maybe it's more familiar? Or maybe it's just better? I'm not sure why, but it's one of the reasons that keep me from trying harder to develop an all-online class, despite the advantages in time, distance, flexibility such a class could offer.

  2. Linda:

    Great question and one that I have thought about, but I’m not sure I have a great answer. Here’s my thinking to date. For students who come to a traditional university, I think, that they expect face to face interaction. I would begin with the classroom face to face and attempt to extend the classroom using technology to get students communicating outside of class time concerning classroom issues. Now students may have to be introduced to the technologies as they develop, or helped to see the potential uses of the technologies. My sense is that if the students work on projects in class that are real to them and require outside collaboration, students will experience for themselves at what level the interaction with technology is positive or negative for them and will decide for themselves when and how to use each to the best advantage and for better effect. An in class evaluation of the use of technology needs completed as a part of the learning process, that provides an opportunity for the individual student to discover and evaluate their peers and their own perspectives on the use of technology. In effect, I think there is a learning curve both in terms of the technologies and appropriateness of technology

    The process is different for students who self select distance education. The first step in my mind would be to get a sense of individual students process early in the semester to determine there personal focus. Are they able to address the learning goals for the course or does the use of the technologies interfere with their educational process. The distance education instructor, contrary to common opinion, needs to spend more “smart time” both in the development and monitoring the interaction between and among the students. Some students should be told that this distance experience is probably not a good learning environment for them. Of course as we move to voice and video synchronous communication many of the face to face issues may resolve over time.

    What I believe we must not do is destroy our University concept as we know it, but expand it to reflect the use of new technologies as they develop. From my perspective there is much to support many smart people in one physical space talking and encountering each other and at the same time expanding the physical space by using the multiple tools at their disposal.

    What do you think?


  3. Hey Frank, this question is also raised in my mind also but thanks for your comment i got the answer of the question.

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