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Learner Centered Course Development

A learner centered classroom is one in which the instructor and the student work together to reach educational goals. Outcomes for the course focus on what skills the student will be able to master by the end of the semester, and the activities that will be used to build those skills. By building skills, the student accepts responsibility for his or her own learning, while the instructor serves as a facilitator for learning activities. This approach allows students with a variety of backgrounds and abilities to succeed.

The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education support the philosophy of a learner centered classroom. With the support of the American Association for Higher Education, the Education Commission of the States, and The Johnson Foundation, these principles were published in New Directions for Teaching and Learning; Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education , edited by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson (Jossey-Bass, 1991).

  • Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students ' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

  • Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students

Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas an d responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.

  • Good Practice Encourages Active Learning

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

  • Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. In getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

  • Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task

Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis for high performance for all.

  • Good Practice Communicates High Expectations

Expect more and you will get it. High expectations are important for everyone -- for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

  • Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.

Please check the schedule of seminars and workshops at the Center for more information on learner centered teaching.

The following Internet sites may also provide some useful information:

  • Mary Ellen Weimer's book Learner Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice is a highly regarded book for college instructors who wish to use learner centered philosophies in the classrooms. Click here for a book review of this book in which she advocates basic changes in the traditional structure of courses to empower students to take responsibility for their own learning:
  • Reflective Essays on Academic Rigor, Relevance and Reflection , 2006 Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium from the University of Georgia:
  • Interactive Andragogy: Principles, Methods, and Skills. By Alex Gitterman, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 2004, Vol. 24 Issue 3/4, p95-112, 18p;

Recommended Books from the Center

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Editorial notes from Joyce: More than any other book, this one has changed my approach to classroom teaching. Fink considers the readiness of the student when coming to a class, how a teacher can better prepare the student, how to structure the teaching/learning activities throughout the semester, and how to set course learning objectives. Key pages for me are 75-78 (setting learning objectives) and pages 132-139 (scheduling the learning activities).

Davis, T. M., & Murrell, P. H. (1993). Turning Teaching Into Learning: The Role of Student Responsibility in the Collegiate Experience . Washington, D.C: The George Washington University. Davis and Murrell have synthesized a large pool of research and put it into a tiny little book that is easy to read. They advocate for student growth in quality rather than quantity, and examine the factors across university settings that have been demonstrated to increase student engagement in coursework as well as the overall campus environment.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. This book is on almost every reference list in any book or article about teaching and learning. Weimer advocates a student centered approach to designing a course and putting the responsibility for learning in the hands of the students. She proposes bold steps, that at first seem outlandish; by the time you finish the book you wonder why you would do things any other way. She provides ideas about how to wean students away from total dependence into a state of independent learning with the teacher there to guide.

Wehlburg, C. M. (2006). Meaningful Course Revision: Enhancing Academic Engagement Using Student Learning Data . Bolton, MA: Anker. Wehlburg focuses on the importance of student learning throughout this book, and uses that framework to define "course redesign." The importance of determining exactly what faculty intend students to learn is consistently matched with ideas on how to measure what students are actually learning. Many ideas are presented, and the book can be used to merely tweak the course you are already teaching or to completely redesign a course.