How can faculty present important content to be learned in ways that improve student learning?

Page 2: Learner-Centered Learning Environments

Learner-Centered Learning Environment

learner centered: Involves taking into account students' background knowledge, interests, social and cultural values.In a learner-centered learning environment, the instructor should design ways to uncover the knowledge, skills, interests, attitudes, and beliefs of every learner. Learner-centered instructors know that students are not blank slates—that a conceptual understanding, or misunderstanding, of a subject is based on what they bring with them, including the students’ social and cultural traditions and experiences. Moreover, because people’s thoughts and beliefs are often tacitly held, it is important to create many opportunities to draw those beliefs to the surface and make them visible to the learner, the instructor, and the classroom community, as appropriate. The more visible a student’s thinking becomes, the more opportunity an instructor has to understand the student’s misconceptions and correct them. In this way, the instructor can build upon what the student already knows and is able to do.

Kellie

Failing to make a student’s thinking visible can be problematic. For example, some students may do well at memorizing content and will score well on a test, but during the next assignment or discussion they might revert to ideas and beliefs that are based on their undiscovered misconceptions. Listen to the audio clip below to further your understanding of learner-centered learning environments (time: 0:48).

View Transcript

Obviously, this type of tacit misconception, whether addressed or not, is likely to have an effect on more than one exceptional student in this future teacher’s career.

A learner-centered classroom seeks to avoid the dilemma of undiscovered thinking by:

  • Presenting students with subject-related problems or challenges
  • Soliciting their thoughts and ideas about how to solve the problem
  • Asking them to explain the reasons behind their thinking

Finally, a passage from the text How People Learn does a succinct job of summarizing an instructor’s role in being learner centered:

“If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learner-centered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge. The teachers’ attempt to get a sense of what each student knows, cares about, is able to do, and wants to do can serve as a foundation on which to build bridges to new understandings.” (National Research Council, 2000, p. 136)

Now that you’ve had a brief summary of a learner-centered learning environment, you might like to take a few minutes to interact with the Challenge scenarios below.

Fish is Fish

The Fish is Fish movie and audio explanation by John Bransford illustrate how we construct new knowledge based on existing knowledge and conceptions.

(time: 1:34)

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bransford_john_1
John Bransford, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Washington, Seattle

(time: 2:39)

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Memory

The following movie and audio explanation by John Bransford illustrate that making the right instructional decisions will help meet a student’s needs.

(time: 1:04)

 View Transcript

bransford_john_1
John Bransford, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Washington, Seattle

(time: 1:34)

View Transcript

Learner-Centered Example

Community, Learner Centered, Knowledge Centered, Assessment Centered

Take a look at the Initial Thoughts questions below from the What Do You See? Perceptions of Disability module on disability awareness. These questions offer one way to get information about a student’s background knowledge, values, and beliefs by asking about her or his personal thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Incorporating learner-centeredness is foundational to the How People Learn theory and one necessary element to enhancing lifelong learning.


What Do You See? Perceptions of Disability

Initial Thoughts

Write down your initial reactions to the pictures you have just seen by answering these questions:

  • What did you see?
  • What feelings did you have about the photos?
  • What did you think about the individuals in this Challenge?
  • Do perceptions matter?

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