“Student-centered education” has been a trending topic for some time now. With an emphasis on promoting and enhancing student voice, choice and control, technology is helping to create student-centered learning environments focused on preparing students for modern day life and careers. Growing movements like BYOD, flipped and blended learning are highlighting the importance of student-centered learning, accentuating the need for student-driven methods, and self-paced environments. So why should our education system take any notice?

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation defines student-centered learning as revolving around four main components where:

  • Learning is Personalized
  • Learning is Competency-Based
  • Learning Happens Anytime, Anywhere
  • Learning is Student-Driven

A report by the foundation on “Integrating technology with student-centered learning” outlines how the combination of these components ensures a learning experience that can: “Provide all students equitable access to the knowledge and skills necessary for college and career readiness in the 21st century, focus on mastery of skills and knowledge, and align with current research on how people learn.” Understanding why student-centered learning is fundamental to our education system requires a closer look at these key components that aim to empower students in a way that contradicts current practice.

1. Learning Is Personalized

“Personalized learning recognizes that students engage in different ways and in different places.” Moving away from the constraints of brick and mortar schools, personalized learning environments are modelled on flexibility. With more control over their own learning, students within PLEs are empowered to follow individualized paths at a pace that meets their needs, ‘digging deeper’ by exploring independent learning, critical thinking, and collaboration. Technology innovation focused on personalization is attempting to take this a step further by creating software that adapts to each student’s needs providing personalized support and resources that correspond to how they learn best.

2. Learning Is Competency-Based

“Students move ahead based primarily on demonstrating key learning milestones along the path to mastery of core competencies and bodies of knowledge.” As an alternative to traditional forms of assessment, competency-based progression ensures mastery of skills using a scaffolding approach that’s self-paced and student-driven. An approach that measures learning over time, competency-based assessment is widely considered a more effective form of testing that prepares students for 21st century college and careers. Adaptive learning solutions like Fishtree are now integrating competency-based progression to enhance the personalized learning experience and to drive better learning outcomes.

3. Learning Takes Place Anytime, Anywhere

“Learning takes place beyond the traditional school day, and even the school year.” Mobile learning has allowed us to break down traditional constraints in which learning was restricted to the classroom. With time and place no longer tied to strict schedules, the learning environment is more flexible than ever before, allowing students to enhance their independent learning skills, while going at a pace that suits them. Technology plays a key role here with the necessity for devices, wifi, and accessibility to resources. Adaptive learning platforms like Fishtree combine mobile technology with personalization by providing students with cloud-based access to endless multimodal resources, accessible from any device, at any time.

4. Students Exert Ownership Over Their Learning

“Student-centered learning engages students in their own success and incorporates their interests into the learning process.” Perhaps one of the most important aspects of student-centered education, offering more student-driven and self-paced learning opportunities, students are empowered to take ownership over their learning and to exercise more voice, choice and control. Taking responsibility for their learning, students are motivated to succeed, actively engaging in self-assessment and critical thinking, inspired to explore the many skills that are essential to 21st century life and careers.

Is this the education we provide, or is it time we started putting students at the center?


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About the author:


Lorna Keane specializes in language teaching and has taught in second and third-level institutions in several countries. She holds a B.A in languages and cultural studies and an M.A in French literature, theory and visual culture. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

Image credits: Phillipe Put / CC BY 2.0