What is Student Centered Learning?

Traditionally, Western instructors have lectured their students- and that’s about it, along with a lot of PowerPoint presentations!  Research tells us, however, that this is probably one of the most ineffective ways to help students remember material, let alone understand it.  Lecture also does not help students develop critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and presentation skills- yet these are the skills that most employers seek.

Ever heard of the Learning Pyramid?  This pyramid shows how a group of American students best retained information.  Lecture produced only 5% retention, while   demonstration, practice and teaching others produced much higher rates of retention.

Why do humans seem to require a variety of learning methods and do best with very hands-on approaches?  It’s because the way the brain and the body work together to assimilate and digest information.  We are social creatures. We learn socially.  Many of us have visual, aural (speaking and listening), and kinesthetic (hands-on, physical) ways of learning.

I promote student-centered learning activities not just because they are effective and because they prepare students for working and living in the “real world”.  They also create learning communities that are democratic and egalitarian.  In the student-centered classroom, the teacher is not God.  All students are equal and worthy of respect.  Challenges are welcomed, including those that question authority, hierarchy and injustice.

Over the next months, I’ll be training Indian faculty on how to use a variety of student centered teaching methods.  Let’s see how they are received!  The Indian higher education system remains too much like the system imported by the British colonials with Victorian overtones.  Many faculty are hungry for more democratic and thoughtful teaching activities- I’ll keep you posted on their reactions, questions, and dreams!

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