What do we mean by student-centred learning?
We recently published the findings of a review of teaching and learning strategies from 50 universities across the globe. 44% of the reviewed strategies were concerned with improving student-centred approaches. You may well discern from this snippet of data that 56% of the universities are happy enough with what they’re already doing. Perhaps. Although, our conversations with institutions around the globe suggest that there remains widespread frustration at the resilience of teacher-centred pedagogies.
Many of the ideas we’ve shared recently have highlighted an international shift in higher education towards developing what students can do, rather than just what they know. Sometimes this is organised through employability campaigns, or institutional attempts to signal the uniqueness of their particular graduates. For us, though, it’s just good pedagogy.
Student-centredness suggests a concern with what learners should know, do and appreciate as a result of thoughtfully designed learning experiences, which itself suggests reversing the way teaching is designed. If we know where we want learners to end up, we can work out how to get there - and how we (teachers and learners) will know they’ve arrived. This focus on learning design should not suggest an intention for learning to be ‘done to’ the students. Student-centredness is typically active, collaborative and experiential - as typified by AAC&Us High Impact Practices.
The ultimate reward of student-centredness is learner autonomy and independence, which is why it needs to include much more formative assessment, including peer and self-review, leading to motivated and self-regulating learners. And increasingly those key attributes are accelerated through learning experiences beyond the classroom, on internships, study abroad, community projects, student awards and many other co- and extra-curricular activities.
Yet, whilst student-centred learning is clearly the long-term goal of many universities, delivering on this ambition can present a number of challenges. Below we discuss 5 of the key challenges along with ideas on how to overcome them. You can also download a copy of our guide to kick-starting a student-centred learning strategy here ...
The solution - a personal space for learning
The ability to strike the right balance between a personal space for learners and the institutional space for reviewing, supporting and assessing progress is entirely possible if you have the right tools to help students record learning whenever and wherever it happens, and for assessing progress and achievement when it matters.
The solution - a guided space for learning
In our view, providing a personal learning space to help students explore, reflect on, and evidence their own learning is a must. However, this alone is not enough. The inevitable uniqueness of each student’s exploration will present challenges for assessment at scale. So how do universities maintain the authenticity and integrity of a personal space for learning whilst at the same time satisfying the institutional agenda? The answer lies in the same personal learning platform being coupled with tools to help structure and guide learning (no matter what context) along with seamless assessment capability.
The solution - a creative space for learning
Earlier in this blog we talked about the increasing importance of students being able to fully articulate what they can do versus what they know. We believe every student should have the means to easily record and reflect on any and every experience. In PebblePad, this could be the completion of a customised template for supporting an internship, a video of a clinical practical uploaded via the app, or a business project blog post. But this is only half the story. Collating evidence of experience is only of real value if your student-centred technology toolkit can also support the aggregation of these records into beautiful portfolio form, whether this is in support of peer review, formal assessment or career application.
The solution - a personal and collaborative space for learning
Our view of a student-centred world is one in which learners can maintain a secure and private digital space for their own learning but without it being closed to input from others. In PebblePad, learners can not only initiate and record their own learning experiences but they can also determine who else they want to bring into the process outside of formal assessment. To this end, we believe a student-centred technology armoury should support secure collaboration, sharing, peer review, conversation spaces and allow students to capture learning anywhere, on any device. Sheffield Hallam University and PebblePad's recent Learning Technologies award is an outstanding example of innovation in peer-reviewed, collaborative learning.
The solution - a supported space for learning
Empowering students to take ownership of their learning is a fantastic idea, but for those involved in monitoring and supporting student development, it can present challenges - especially for large cohorts. For this reason, student-centred learning must be underpinned by a way to monitor engagement, deliver formative and summative feedback and assessment, and allow mentors and tutors to offer the guidance and scaffolding needed to help students shape their journey and address any skills gaps.
If you'd like to learn more about assessment of student-centred learning at scale, our recommended read would be Patrick Viney's Newcastle Business School's Dissertation Management Case Study available on the publications page of last year's PebblePad Global Conference. More than 800 students undertake the Newcastle Business School dissertation module every year, supported by over 100 academic staff. The implementation of structured PebblePad workbooks has simplified the process for students and how reporting in PebblePad's assessment space (ATLAS) has provided a management overview of the entire process.
Download a copy of our free guide to Student-Centred Learning
Download a copy of our Global Trends in Higher Education Paper