4 Key Ideas in Student-Centered Learning

As advanced technology and digital devices continue to make their way into K-12 classrooms, educators are continually looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities technology has to offer while simultaneously keeping learning centered on student needs. While it can sometimes seem like there’s a new buzzword in education every week, the increasingly popular term “student-centered learning” is a critical component of a 21st century classroom.

Groups like ISTE and Future Ready Schools have a plethora of resources around student-centered learning, and have been working to empower teachers to make it a reality for some time. There’s so much to know about student-centered learning, and while it’s essentially a simple concept — that students should take ownership of their own learning, and instruction should put student needs first — it can easily become complex in practice. From our time spent understanding and promoting student-centered learning, we’ve gathered four “big ideas” we consider to be at the core of the approach, and that you should know if you want to practice student-centered learning in your classroom:

#1: Student-centered learning must emphasize personalization, but it’s up to you and your students to decide how to personalize.

Speaking of education buzzwords with contested definitions — personalization is one that is understood and used in a variety of ways. Our curriculum developers use this definition:

Personalization: The learner and the teacher collaborate to drive learning and determine needs, plan, and learning design

Collaboration is critical here. It’s also what sets personalization apart from individualization, where the teacher drives learning for individual students. Student-centered learning must be personalized, but it’s up to the teacher and the student to collaborate and determine how to design learning in order to make it relevant, engaging, and on-target for each student. For more on personalized learning as it exists on a continuum, and how technology integration drives personalized learning, see:

#2: It involves careful consideration of a student’s role in a 21st century classroom.

Technology can make student-centered learning far more attainable, but it can also complicate instruction, and drive learning design further away from student needs. Ensuring that technology empowers the student involves careful consideration of how the student interacts with technology. For example, we often refer to students as “digital natives,” which is true — but that doesn’t mean they are experienced in using technology specifically for the purpose of learning. That’s a skill that, depending on the student, may need to be explicitly taught. It’s also important to consider how your students are interacting with the technology in relationship to content. Are they using technology to passively consume content, or to actively create a demonstration of their learning?

For a deeper dive into understanding students as consumers or creators, see:

#3: Student-centered learning might be about the students, but that doesn’t make it a one-size-fits-all approach for teachers.

If you want to integrate student-centered learning into your classroom but you already have a classroom model that works for you, don’t worry — student-centered learning can be integrated into a variety of models, spaces, and approaches to instruction. Effective student-teacher collaboration requires that teachers feel comfortable and empowered to design learning in a space that suits their own teaching style. This isn’t to say that changes won’t have to be made, but that student-centered learning can likely function in the model that already suits your style.

Many educators employ a blended or flipped model to deliver instruction. To learn about student-centered learning in a blended environment, see:

#4: It’s more effective when you can take it to scale.

Implementing student-centered learning in an individual classroom is a huge feat, and one that will positively impact a student’s experience. But to take it to the next level, where it can actually have a long-standing impact on a student’s relationship with education, requires that the approach be implemented at scale. To drive such a change requires strong leadership, like-minded educators, student input, and community support. Future Ready Schools provides districts with powerful resources, communities, and events to enable the transition to student-centered learning. Their digital, interactive planning dashboard is particularly powerful in mobilizing leadership to institute real change.

For more on Future Ready Schools, visit their website and see: