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Placing the Learner at the Center of Instruction

written by: Mayflor Markusic • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 1/5/2012

The emphasis of today’s instruction in the classroom is to shift teaching strategies, classroom discipline, and classroom assessments from the teacher-centered paradigm to the learner-centered paradigm. Let's dive into a comparison between the two methods.

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    Why Learner-Centered?

    Each teacher has his or her own teaching philosophy. Some teachers have eclectic teaching philosophies to enable them to choose the best features of major pedagogic systems of belief. The individual and unique teaching philosophy guides the teacher through various decision-making tasks inside the classroom. But whichever philosophy is upheld by the teacher, it should respond to the needs of the students. And today, when students are no longer viewed as “tabula rasa,” that teaching philosophy should be learner-centered. But what are the characteristics of a learner-centered instruction in the classroom?

    The best way to describe learner-centered classroom instruction is to compare and contrast it with its opposite, teacher-centered instruction. Here are two ways that they differ.

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    Knowledge Direction

    The two paradigms of classroom instruction, teacher-centered and learner-centered, differ significantly in knowledge direction.

    Source of knowledge – With teacher-centered classroom instruction, knowledge primarily comes from the teacher. The teacher is the major source of information. On the other hand, in the learner-centered paradigm, knowledge is the combined efforts of the teacher and the students. Under the guidance of the teacher, the students synthesize the gathered information using problem solving, critical thinking, and inquiry skills.

    Acquisition of knowledge – In the teacher-centered paradigm, teaching strategies are usually the lecture or exposition type. This paradigm places much emphasis on the faster pace and greater bulk of knowledge transmitted from teacher to student. But in the learner-centered classroom, greater emphasis is given to the meaningfulness of knowledge. Students acquire knowledge to address real-life issues and problems.

    Receipt of knowledge – In the teacher-centered classroom, students receive knowledge passively, while in the learner-centered classroom, the students are actively involved in seeking out knowledge.

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    Assessment Approach

    The fundamental purpose of conducting assessment in a teacher-centered classroom is similar to that of the learner-centered one. The fundamental purpose is to increase the effectiveness of instruction in the classroom. However, the approaches to conducting assessments are different in these two paradigms.

    Assessment tools – Since the teacher is the primary source of knowledge in a teacher-centered environment, there are only two kinds of answers – the right and the wrong. Thus, the tools used for assessment are those that clearly delineate the right answer from the other answers. On the other hand, in the learner-centered classroom, the importance of right answers is overshadowed by the importance of creating better questions. Thus, assessment tools vary to embrace the multiple facets of learning. Besides paper tests, there will be portfolios, performance tests, and others.

    Assessment functions – In a teacher-centered paradigm, the instruction follows a distinct step by step procedure. Once the subject is taught, assessment follows. The results of the tests are recorded and the function of the assessment was to monitor the academic progress of the students. But in the learner-centered paradigm, assessment is intertwined with classroom instruction. The results of a test are used to discover learning difficulties. The functions of the assessment are to diagnose learning problems and to encourage better learning.