Learning-Centered Pedagogy

This morning, Heather recalled how a professor’s inclusive in-class grammar made learning more engaging.  In this post, I want to think about how we frame our pedagogy, to ourselves and to our colleagues.  In September of 2009, I wrote an article for ProfHacker about Teacher-Centered vs. Student-Centered pedagogy. In that post, I described a situation I’d found myself in where I had been described by a new colleague as a “teacher-centered” instructor.

I understood very quickly that my colleague and I were not working with the same definition of the term, as I’d always seen myself (and others had seen me) as a student-centered instructor.

In my real life and in the comments to that ProfHacker post, the term “teacher-centered” stirred some debate. As modern-day pedagogues, we desire to be student-centered, egalitarian, libratory, process-centered, or whatever modern-day buzz-word we can include to produce hip and wonderful descriptions of our teaching styles. Being “teacher-centered” in the midst of those other idealistic terms, can be, well, offensive … at least to a teacher of writing who is supposed to be–by nature of the discipline and her personality–student centered.

Teacher-Centered Pedagogy
Generally, teacher-centered pedagogy is, simply put, a system in which most of the meaningful course information comes from the instructor. This approach places a significant amount of responsibility on the instructor to provide the “right” information, in the “right” way, regardless of learning/teaching styles. Depending on many factors (discipline, for example), teacher-centered pedagogy is the preferred method of content dissemination for both teachers and students. However, this style of teaching can be limiting to students. Most of us know what to expect in this educational environment, and the roles of teacher/students are well-defined. This style of teaching/learning is traditional.

Student-Centered Pedagogy
The roles of student and teacher in a student-centered pedagogy, on the other hand, can be less clear and predicable. Often in student-centered pedagogy, students take on more responsibility for their learning, as they have to do some of the work of teaching. In a student-centered classroom, as just one example, students create knowledge by working with each other, with their instructor, with outside community agencies to apply course content in a “real world” type of manner. Again, depending on the discipline, student-centered teaching approaches can be very effective for students, but this type of environment can be chaotic for some students who desire highly structured learning environments.

O’Neill and McMahon placed this debate on a continuum:

Teaching- and student-centered learning continuum


But even this continuum lends to an all-or-nothing understanding, as there doesn’t seem to be much room in the middle for alternate styles and methods.

Reframing the Debate
However, perhaps we need to redefine the center of this pedagogical debate as not being person-centered at all. Perhaps we remove the actors and focus on the action. If we can reframe the debate, looking at this issue from a number of perspectives, pedagogy can then become “learning centered.” McCombs and Miller in Learner-Centered Classroom Practices and Assessments explain that learning centered environments “balance the concern with learning and achievement and concern with diverse learner needs.” Additionally, learning-centered pedagogy “meaningfully predicts learner motivation and levels of learning and achievement” (120).



How about you?
ProfHacker readers come from all disciplines, from all ranks, and from all types of learning/teaching strengths. How do you balance pedagogical methods in your class/discipline? How do you implement a “learning-centered” focus into your classes? In other words, please share the strategies for creating a LEARNING focused classroom. Please leave comments below.

Creative Commons image by Billie Hara.


Return to Top