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Teacher-Centered Versus Learner-Centered Learning

We's make better me's.

June 18, 2019

By: Laura Hilger

A learner-centered environment facilitates a more collaborative way for students to learn. It’s the student who leads the learning.

When I was just starting out as a teacher, I remember thinking that my classroom was going to be how I would change the world because, you know, I could do it all by myself with my students. I didn’t need any help and I certainly didn’t need to rely on or align with any of my colleagues. Their style was up to them and I would be doing my own thing in my room. My evaluation was all about me, and how my students were or were not benefiting from my teaching. Sure, I was a team player and worked well with my colleagues, but the bigger picture wasn’t my priority. I was going to rock it out, and build a small revolution, one classroom at a time. Me. Me. Me.

As long as my students were learning, that was the point. Right? Well … sort of.

Yes, we want students learning. We want data, both qualitative and quantitative, that is evidence that students are growing. We want to be able to say without a doubt that whatever method we have put into place is working. When we discuss why we are educators, we want everyone in the room to simply say, “We’re here for the students.”

It’s not about what teachers teach, but what the students learn.

To be student-centered is much more than an educator in one classroom. In fact, I’d argue that you can’t be student-centered when acting in isolation; instead, we must work at becoming student-centered as a system. Becoming student-centered is a journey of like-minded individuals with a mission to improve student learning together. What one educator is doing in her classroom does matter, but it matters so much more when that educator behaves with a Systems Thinking Mindset.

Of course, you can do it in isolation. After all, look at all of those “pockets of excellence” that exist. And that’s great for the kids who are lucky enough to have the experience. But great teaching and learning should be the norm for all students and not the exception. By working alongside other people in your state, community, district or school, you can help create powerful teaching and learning experiences.

We is more effective than me.

A look at the differences between teacher-centered and learner-centered learning



Focus is on instructor

Focus is on both students and instructor

Focus is on language forms and structures (what the instructor knows about the language)

Focus is on language use in typical situations (how students will use the language)

Instructor talks; students listen

Instructor models; students interact with instructor and one another

Students work alone

Students work in pairs, in groups, or alone depending on the purpose of the activity

Instructor monitors and corrects every student utterance

Students talk without constant instructor monitoring; instructor provides feedback / correction when questions arise

Instructor answers students’
questions about language

Students answer each other’s questions, using instructor as an information resource

Instructor chooses topics

Students have some choice of topics

Instructor evaluates student learning

Students evaluate their own learning; instructor also evaluates

Classroom is quiet

Classroom is often noisy and busy

Source: The National Capitol Language Resource Center (a project of the George Washington University)


Laura Hilger
Senior Director of Teaching and Learning

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