I saw a post the other day that talked about ’empathy’, and I’m strongly supportive. But along the way they cited another topic that I’ve had mixed feelings about. So I thought it was time to address it. I’m wondering about ‘learner-centered’, and it may seem churlish to suggest otherwise. However, let me make the case for an alternative.
First, ‘learner-centered’ (apparently also known as ‘student centered‘) is used to take the focus away from the teacher. And I approve. It’s too easy, without awareness, to put the emphasis on ‘teaching’, and you’re on a slippery slope to lectures and knowledge tests. I’m all for that. However, I’m worried about a down-side.
My worry, with learner-centered learning, is that we may become too accommodating. It could be too easy to cater to learners. For instance, one belief that persists is that learning should be ‘fun’. Which is wrong. We know that we need ‘desirable difficulty’ (ala Bjork). That’s why I’ve lobbied for ‘hard fun‘. We could also use learner-centered to make the case for adapting to preferred learning styles. Which, too, would be wrong.
Obviously, you can also argue that learners need meaningful learning, so a learner-centered approach would be appropriate. But I want to suggest another candidate. One that, I argue, leads to good outcomes without carrying any opportunity for baggage.
I’m arguing for ‘learning-centered’, not learner-centered. That is, the focus is on the learning needed, not on the learner. Which isn’t to say we leave the learner out of the equation, but the question then becomes: what does this mean?
I’m suggesting that the key is learning focused on:
- meaningful outcomes
- aligned design
- addressing learners’ prior knowledge
- addressing learners’ emotions: motivation, trust, anxiety, confidence
And, look, I get that folks talking about ‘learner-centered’ will argue that they’re talking about the same things. I just see it also carrying a greater potential for focusing on the learner at the expense of learning. And, in general, I would expect to be wrong. That is, most folks aren’t going to go awry. But is there an alternative without the problems?
So, the question is whether ‘learning-centered’ has similar pitfalls, or is it more likely to lead to better outcomes? And I don’t know the answer. It’s just a concern that I’ve felt, and thought I’d raise. Now it’s your turn! What are your thoughts on the phrase ‘learner-centered’?