Comparison of a Teacher-Centered Approach Vs. a Student-Centered Approach

In a student-centered classroom, students and teachers interact frequently.

To impart knowledge, instructors have traditionally lectured, assuming that students were taking notes and absorbing concepts. Of course, teachers never knew how well their students were learning until they graded the essays and exams. In this teacher-centered learning model, students learn passively, focusing upon the instructor’s presentation. In contrast, student-centered learning requires active participation from students, forcing them to interact and construct their own knowledge. The instructor assists but does not dictate. The student-centered approach, promoting engagement and collaboration, questions the assumptions underlying the traditional approach.

1 Assumptions

The notion that any knowledgeable expert can teach underlies the teacher-centered approach, according to WGBH Educational Foundation’s Getting Results, an online professional development course for educators. In contrast, a student-centered approach assumes that instructors need not only mastery of content but also knowledge of active learning strategies. Whereas a teacher-centered approach assumes that students can succeed if they study sufficiently outside of class, the student-centered approach presumes that students become more successful if they understand their own learning styles and participate actively in class

2 Engagement

Traditionally, our classrooms have focused on instruction, rather than learning, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Switching to a student-centered approach, instructors become facilitators, rather than lecturers. Online games and short, interactive exercises provide immediate feedback to instructors and students during the learning process, rather than after a test. For example, if students participate in a Jeopardy game prior to the test, the instructor can immediately gauge their level of understanding. At the end of class, an instructor may ask students to write a one-minute statement about their learning that day. If students indicate confusion about concepts, instructors have the feedback to provide future intervention.

3 Collaboration

In a traditional classroom, relationships among students and instructors often remain distant. Students may simply take notes during a lecture and then leave. Through collaborative learning — small group projects, online discussion boards, chat rooms and peer evaluation – student-centered learning can take place. Rather than passively absorbing content, students in a student-centered classroom can discover concepts and build their own understanding through interaction with the instructor and fellow students.

4 Terminology

The University of the Sciences notes that many educators use the terms “student- centered,” “learner-centered” and “learning-centered” interchangeably, although subtle differences exist. Some teachers object to “student-centered” because they feel it implies a consumer mentality, providing too much power to students. The League for Innovation in Community Colleges indicates that since the early 1990s, many community colleges have changed their terminology; instead of using “student-centered” and “teaching-centered,” they have focused on “learning centered” to prioritize learning as the primary goal. In practice, many educators use the terms “student-centered” and “learning-centered” synonymously and recognize the shortcomings of the teacher-centered approach.

With dual degrees in English and learning disabilities, Peg Ehlen has been a full-time English professor most of her life. In addition, she has directed disability services for post-secondary students. Her publications reflect her experience in these fields and her knowledge of psychology, parenting and juvenile diabetes.