STUDENT-CENTRED learning (SCL) shifts the focus from teaching to learning and from teacher to student.
It has also been described as flexible, experiential and self-directed learning.
"In SCL, students are active participants in their learning; they learn at their own pace and use their own strategies; they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated; learning is more individualised than standardised." (www.intime.uni.edu/model/center_of_learning_files/definition.html)
In their book, The Learner-Centered Classroom and School: Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Achievement, Barbara L. McComb and Jo Sue Whistler state that "learners are treated as co-creators in the learning process, as individuals with ideas and issues that deserve attention and consideration".
In line with the theory of constructivism and recognising that prior knowledge of learners significantly influences future learning, SCL attempts to build on previous knowledge.
"Student-centred teaching methods include active learning in which students solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate or brainstorm during class; cooperative learning in which the students work in teams on problems and projects under conditions that assure both positive interdependence and individual accountability; and inductive teaching and learning in which students are first presented with challenges (questions or problems) and learn the course material in the contexts of addressing these challenges.
"Inductive methods include inquiry-based learning, case-based instructions, problem-based learning, project-based learning, discovery learning and just-in-time teaching (www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Student-Centered.html)."
Jo Handelsman and colleagues in their article Scientific Teaching in Science (www.sciencemag.org) stated that "there is mounting evidence that supplementing or replacing lectures with active learning strategies and engaging students in discovery and scientific process improves learning and knowledge retention".
"Student-centred methods have repeatedly been shown to be superior to the traditional teacher-centred approach to instruction, a conclusion that applies whether the assessed outcome is short-term mastery, long-term retention or depth of understanding of the course material, acquisition of critical thinking or creative problem-solving skills, formation of positive attitudes to the subject being taught or level of confidence in knowledge or skills."
However, some concerns have also been expressed about the use of SCL:
* In the SCL approach, the coverage of content is less compared to exclusively lecture-based teaching.
However, James L. Cooper and colleagues in their article Implementing Small-Group Instruction: Insights from Successful Practitioners published in New Directions in Teaching and Learning state that "about two thirds of the faculty members interviewed said that they covered fewer topics in class when they used group work, but students learned and retained more of the 'big ideas' that they chose to address relative to using lecture formats".
* Another concern is whether SCL can be used while teaching large classes.
A number of strategies has been suggested for using "small group discussions" for "short periods of times" while teaching in large classes such as:
-- Short quizzes which can assess if students have understood what has been taught or can relate to what will be taught.
-- "Think-pair-share" (introduced by Professor Frank Lyman at the University of Maryland in 1981) where students are asked to think individually about an open-ended question (which is likely to have variety of answers) or issue for a minute and then exchange views with a neighbour or learning partner.
At that point, randomly selected students share their ideas and that of their learning partner with the class.
-- The one-minute paper (introduced by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross in 1993 in Classroom Assessment Techniques) where students answer two questions after completing a part of a lecture or at the end of it:
a. What is the most important thing you have learned in this session?
b. What else would you like to learn about the topic under discussion?
-- "Quick thinks" (introduced by Susan Johnston and Jim Cooper in the Cooperative Learning and College Teaching newsletter) where students are given a quick test, such as selecting the best response; correcting the error; completing the sentence starter; reordering the steps; paraphrasing the idea etc.
-- "Peer instruction" (introduced by Eric Mazur in Peer Instruction: A User's Manual) where students respond to questions by showing different coloured cards or using electronic devices.
The exercise gives an overall impression of students' learning and comprehension of concepts.
The use of electronic devices has the advantage of obtaining anonymous responses and ability to analyse them.
-- Before beginning a lecture, ask students if they have certain questions or they want certain aspects of the topic to be highlighted.
At the end of the lecture, ask them if their questions have been answered or they need further explanation.
Some commonly used SCL methods include:
l Computer-aided packages -- students decide on which sections they want to spend more learning time.
l Problem-based learning -- students identify their own learning needs; choose their own learning resources; decide whether to study individually or in a group.
l Task-based learning -- students ascertain what knowledge or skills they need to accomplish the task; which area they need to seek help in; whom to consult or where to go for guidance.
l Case-based learning -- students choose what information they need to comprehend the case; who they need to see to get more information; what other resources would help in managing the case.
To get their acceptance and cooperation, students need to know the benefits of SCL and the different ways of its implementation. Assessment methods should match the teaching approaches of SCL for successful implementation.
ALAM SHER MALIK New Straits Times Learing Curve Comment 18 November 2012