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Learner-Centered Teaching

Phyllis Blumberg, Ph.D.
Director of the Teaching and Learning Center
University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

1. Most of this material comes from Blumberg, P. (2008) Developing Learner-Centered Teachers: A Practical Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Please cite this reference if you use material from this website Blumberg Developing Learner Centered Teaching

This site contains links to presentation or workshops I have done at various places over the past few years. These presentations provide more information about learner-centered teaching and offer some insights into how I conducted the workshops. All workshops have an active learning component either through small group discussions or individual reflection questions. Many of these activities are not given here. Please contact me at p.blumbe@usciences.edu if you would like more information on these presentation or workshops.

Versions of most of these workshops have been offered repeatedly to new faculty at the University of the Sciences, at the Lilly Conference, The Teaching Professor Conference, the POD Network conference and to faculty at various colleges and universities in the USA and around the world and trainers for the United States Army.

Implementing Learner-centered approaches in your teaching

• The purposes and processes of assessment: How you assess your students will impact how and what they learn.

2. An overview: Learner-centered teaching is an approach to teaching that is increasingly being encouraged in higher education. Learner-centered teachers do not employ a single teaching method. This approach emphasizes a variety of different types of methods that shifts the role of the instructors from givers of information to facilitating student learning.

Traditionally instructors focused on what they did, and not on what the students are learning. This emphasis on what instructors do often leads to students who are passive learners and who did not take responsibility for their own learning. Educators call this traditional method, “instructor-centered teaching.” In contrast, “learner-centered teaching” occurs when instructors focus on student learning.

Interactive presentation introducing learner-centered teaching lct intro general plenary Polk

Learner-centered/ learning-centered teaching or student-centered learning. Educators commonly use three phrases with this approach. Learner- centered teaching places the emphasis on the person who is doing the learning (Weimer, 2002). Learning-centered teaching focuses on the process of learning. Both phrases appeal to faculty because these phrases identify their critical role of teaching in the learning process. The phrase student centered learning is also used, but some instructors do not like it because it appears to have a consumer focus, seems to encourage students to be more empowered, and appears to take the teacher out of the critical role (Blumberg, 2004).

Introduction to Learner-Centered teaching for general audiences

3. Why should instructors use learner-centered approaches in their teaching?

Strong, research evidence exists to support the implementation of learner-centered approaches instead of instructor-centered approaches. Knowledge of this research helps instructors defend their teaching methods to their students and to more traditional faculty peers.

A task force of the American Psychological Association integrated this research into fourteen Learner-Centered Psychological Principles which can be summarized through the following five domains.(Lambert & McCombs, 2000) (Alexander & Murphy, 2000)

1. The knowledge base. The conclusive result of decades of research on knowledge base is that what a person already knows largely determines what new information he attends to, how he organizes and represents new information, and how he filters new experiences, and even what he determines to be important or relevant. (Alexander & Murphy, 2000)

2. Strategic processing and executive control. The ability to reflect on and regulate one’s thoughts and behaviors is an essential aspect of learning. Successful students are actively involved in their own learning, monitor their thinking, think about their learning, and assume responsibility for their own learning (Lambert & McCombs, 2000)

3. Motivation and affect. The benefits of learner-centered education include increased motivation for learning and greater satisfaction with school; both of these outcomes lead to greater achievement (Johnson, 1991; Maxwell, 1998; Slavin, 1990). Research shows that personal involvement, intrinsic motivation, personal commitment, confidence in one’s abilities to succeed, and a perception of control over learning lead to more learning and higher achievement in school. (Alexander & Murphy, 2000)

4. Development and individual differences. Individuals progress through various common stages of development, influenced by both inherited and environmental factors. Depending on the context or task, changes in how people think, believe, or behave are dependent on a combination of one’s inherited abilities, stages of development, individual differences, capabilities, experiences, and environmental conditions. (Alexander & Murphy, 2000)

5. Situation or context. Theories of learning that highlight the roles of active engagement and social interaction in the students’ own construction of knowledge (Bruner, 1966; Kafai & Resnick, 1996; Piaget, 1963; Vygotsky, 1978) strongly support this learner-centered paradigm. Learning is a social process. Many environmental factors including how the instructor teaches, and how actively engaged the student is in the learning process positively or negatively influence how much and what students learn (Lambert & McCombs, 2000). In comparison studies between students in lecture and active learning courses, there are significantly more learning gains in the active learning courses (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999).

4. Advantages of Learner-centered teaching over Instructor-centered teaching

• When the focus becomes student learning, colleges attain higher rates of student retention and have better prepared graduates than those students who were more traditionally trained (Matlin, 2002; Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002).

A Learner-centered teaching model. Weimer (2002) described five learner-centered practice areas that need to change to achieve learner-centered teaching: the Function of Content, the Role of the Instructor, the Responsibility for Learning, the Processes and Purposes of Assessment, and the Balance of Power.

• The functions of the content in learner-centered teaching include building a strong knowledge foundation and to develop learning skills and learner self-awareness.
• The roles of the instructor should focus on student learning. The roles are facilitative rather than didactic.
• The responsibility for learning shifts from the instructor to the students. The instructor creates learning environments that motivate students to accept responsibility for learning.
• The processes and purposes of assessment shift from only assigning grades to include constructive feedback and to assist with improvement. Learner-centered teaching uses assessment as a part of the learning process.
• The balance of power shifts so that the instructor shares some decisions about the course with the students such that the instructor and the students collaborate on course policies and procedures.
While Weimer’s model appeals to faculty, they find that is less pragmatic in describing ways to implement change (Wright, 2006). Since these five practices are broad abstract categories, they do not identify specific learner-centered behaviors for many instructors. To assist faculty, I defined each practice into specific components and incremental steps between instructor-centered and learner-centered teaching. Incremental steps allow instructors to make changes gradually over time. These incremental steps define a manageable transition process from instructor-centered to learner-centered teaching.

Interactive presentations and workshops on one or more specific aspects of leaner-centered teaching

4. Rubrics as a learner-centered tool. I organized these incremental steps into rubrics. Rubrics provide concrete, incremental steps between levels. (Rubrics are commonly used to objectively and effectively grade student assignments.) Instead of assessing student performance, these rubrics are a tool to evaluate the status of a course on the continuum from instructor-centered to learner-centered for Weimer’s five learner-centered practices. Instructors can see incremental steps, given on the rubrics, in the transformation process toward learner-centered teaching. This tool explains various ways to change an instructor’s teaching. Specific courses may be at different points in their transition to learner-centered teaching as indicated by different levels on the components of the rubrics.

Discussions with faculty developers, instructional designers, instructors, and administrators over four years led to the development of specific components, and the levels on the rubrics. A total of over 250 faculty developers and instructors offered feedback and validation. These individuals represent many different disciplines, and they teach at all levels in higher education. This cycle of seeking feedback and making changes to the components and the levels validated the rubrics and gave me confidence that the specific components and the levels on the rubrics transcend disciplines and different types of courses.


Reading and understanding the rubrics

• Read the rubrics horizontally across the page
– from left to right, considering one component or one horizontal line at a time.
• The left-hand column lists the components of the practice.
– As you can see, the six components for The Responsibility for Learning are:

1. Responsibility for learning
2. Learning to learn skills or skills for future learning (including time management, self-monitoring, and goal setting)
3. Self-directed, lifelong learning skills (including determining a personal need to know more, knowing who to ask or where to look for information, determining when need is met)
4. Students’ self-assessment of their learning
5. Students’ self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses
6. Information literacy skills (framing questions, accessing and evaluating sources, evaluating content, using information legally) http://www.acrl.org

The four columns to the right of the Components column identify the incremental levels from learner-centered, on the left, through two levels of transitioning, to instructor-centered, on the right.

• The “Learner-centered approach” column describes the goals that you should be aiming for when transforming a course.
•The two levels of transitioning, “Higher,” and “Lower,” show small transformative goals, which are easier to implement.
Even these small steps often have a large impact on the overall learner- centeredness of a course. Furthermore, small steps in one component often have spillover effects onto other aspects of the course.
•The right-hand column describes an instructor-centered approach.
• The arrows in the second row of the rubric, above the two levels of transitioning, indicate the direction toward which you are striving.

5. Using Rubrics at the Beginning of a Change Process

You can use the rubrics as a self-assessment tool at the beginning of a change process toward learner-centered teaching. The rubrics allow you to determine your status on the learner-centered continuum and they help you identify specific components you might want to change. The levels on the rubrics suggest incremental changes you can make on these components to transform your teaching.

Transforming your overall approach to teaching a course may take several years, whereas moving from one level to the next on a specific component on a rubric within one of Weiner’s five practices is a realistic short-term goal. It is recommended that instructors try to change two to three specific components incrementally and not try to redo completely the entire course all at once. While this transformation process to make courses more learner-centered is not an easy process, the results are worth the effort.
After instructors use the rubrics to identify their current instructor- to- learner-centered status, they should pick a few specific components they want to change to be more learner-centered.

A Planning for transformation form. I found that providing guidance and organization assists instructors to begin their change process. I developed a form to help instructors plan all aspects of changes on specific components. Instructors should complete a separate planning for transformation form for each component they wish to change. On this form, instructors record their current status of their course on that component they wish to transform, plan what changes they want to make and the projected learner-centered status once they make these changes. They address tactical planning considerations. Once instructors complete this planning for transformation form for the components they want to transform, they are ready to begin making changes to their courses.

Planning for Transformation Exercise

6. Using Rubrics to Identify Incremental Steps from Instructor-Centered to Learner-Centered Teaching

Instructors and administrators can use the rubrics as a program assessment tool to show the status of curricula or educational programs or to show the changes that have been made toward becoming more learner-centered. The same rubric tools can be used before implementing changes and then afterwards to document the progress educational programs made over time. Individual instructors can use the rubrics to document how their teaching evolved as they incorporated more learner-centered approaches. These rubrics could be placed in annual evaluation of teaching, teaching dossiers for promotion or when applying for new positions.

How to use he rubrics to assess courses or a curriculum

Assessing teaching on learner-centered rubrics
Benchmark poster

7.Should or can all course be learner-centered? Being a learner-centered instructor should be your goal, but it is not necessary or practical to be learner-centered on every component. Instructors should not expect their courses ever to be at the highest standard in all categories with every component. For a consideration of how much your course can be learner-centered click the workshop on overcoming myths about learner-centered teaching.

Specific sources:

• Blumberg, P. (2004). Beginning journey toward a culture of learning centered teaching. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2(1), 68-80.

• Blumberg, P., & Everett, J. (2005). Achieving a campus consensus on learning-centered teaching: Process and outcomes. To Improve the Academy, 23, 191-210.

• Blumberg, P. (2008) Developing Learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Blumberg, P. Practical Tools to Help Faculty Use Learner-Centered Teaching Approaches: To Improve the Academy, 2008, 27: 111-134.

Alsardary, S., Blumberg, P. Interactive, Learner-Centered Methods of Teaching Mathematics. PRIMUS - Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies, 2009:19, 401-416.

Blumberg, P. Maximizing Learning Through Course Alignment and Using Different Types of Knowledge. Innovative Higher Education, 2009, 34(2), 93-103,

• Coffman, S. J. (2002). Ten strategies for getting students to take responsibility for their learning. College Teaching, 51, 2-4.

• Felder, R., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44(2), 43-47.

• Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, Publishers.

• Oakley, B., Felder, R. M., Brent, R., & Elhajj, I. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2(1), 9-23.

• Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Useful Periodicals :

• College Teaching published by Heldref Publications www.heldref.org

• The Journal of Student-Centered Learning published by New Forums Press, Inc. P.O.
Box 876 Stillwater, OK 74076

• The Teaching Professor newsletter published by Magna Publications

• New Directions in Teaching and Learning published by Jossey-Bass

• Journal of Excellence in College Teaching published by the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching of Miami University of Ohio http://ject.libmuohio.edu

Citations for additional references referred to on this site

Alexander, P., & Murphy, P. (2000). The research base for APA's leaner-centered psychological principles. In N. Lambert, & B. McCombs (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 25-60). Washington, D.D.: American Psychological Association.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2004). Information literacy competency standards for Higher education. Retrieved October 5, 2004 from

Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Johnson, W. D. (1991). Student-student interaction: The neglected variable in education. Educational Research, 10(1), 5-10.

Kafai, Y., & Resnick, LM. (1996). Constructionism in practice. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lambert, N., & McCombs, B. (2000). Introduction: Learner-centered schools and classrooms as a direction for school reform. In N. Lambert, & B. McCombs (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 1-15). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Matlin, M. W. (2002). Cognitive psychology and college-level pedagogy: Two siblings that rarely communicate. In D. F. Halpern, & M. D. Hakel (Eds.), Applying the science of learning to university teaching and beyond. (pp. 87-103). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Maxwell, W. E. (1998). Supplemental instruction, learning communities and students studying together. Community College Review (Fall), retrieved December 20, 2005 from findarticles.com

Piaget, J. (1963). Origins of intelligence in children. NY: Norton.

Slavin, R. E. (1990). Cooperative learning theory, research and practice. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2002). The theory of successful intelligence as a basis for instruction and assessment in higher education. In D. F. Halpern, & M. D. Hakel (Eds.), Applying the science of learning to university teaching and beyond [The theory of successful intelligence as a basis for instruction and assessment in higher education] (pp. 45-54). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wright, R. (2006). Walking the walk: Review of learner-centered teaching, by Maryellen Weimer. Life Sciences Education, 5 (311), 312.













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