John Zimmermann

Professor, General Education

What is a student-centered approach to learning?  This question is best answered by the following definition of the term: 

“Student-centered instruction is an instructional approach in which students influence the content, activities, materials, and pace of learning.  The instructor provides students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another and coaches them in the skills they need to do so effectively.”  (Collins & Brien, 2003) 

Our Stance

The general education faculty has adopted this method of learning based on student interest and request for more engagement in the classroom by fundamentally substituting active learning experiences for instructor’s lectures. 

The role of the instructor is changed from the direct supplier of content to that of an indirect facilitator of content.  The onus is on the instructor to design active learning assignments and projects which will fit this new format.  Thus, student take on more active roles in a learning process which focuses on autonomy, creative and critical thinking and responsibility for their own learning. 

The faculty believes that if this student-centered approach is substituted for the traditional instructor-entered approach that it will lead to increase student motivation to learn, greater retention of knowledge, deeper understanding and more positive attitudes toward the subject being taught. 

Designing Activities

This student-centered approach can include such general techniques of active learning as – 

  • Provide students with opportunities to lead learning activities 
  • Reduce teacher direct instruction by increasing student learning activities 
  • Give students more choice and voice 
  • Create instruction around a need to know approach to student learning 
  • Devote most class time to student activities rather than lectures 
  • Design learning activities that tap into student values, needs and cultural backgrounds 
  • Arrange class rooms so that it’s easy for students to collaborate on projects 
  • Seek to satisfy student passions and interests by promoting a learning process which matters to students 
  • View students not as passive receivers of information but active participants in their own discovery of knowledge and skills 
  • Allow students to choose what to study that they can share in decisions of what is learned 

Specific Techniques

Specific student-centered teaching techniques include: 

  • assigning open-ended problems  
  • problems requiring critical or creative thinking that cannot be solved by following text examples 
  • small group work 
  • primary source analysis 
  • simulations  
  • role plays  
  • self-paced and/or cooperative (team-based) learning. 

See also: student-centered feedback.

Learning Resources

The following will provide more information on implementing student-centered learning: 


Kendall Library Sources found on EBSCO or Google: 

Gloria Brown Wright, “Student-Centered Learning in Higher Education,” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 2011 

T. Conklin. “Making it Personal: The Importance of Student Experience in Creating Autonomy-Supportive Classrooms for Millennial Learners,” Sage Publications, 2013 

S. McCallum. “An Examination of the Flipped Classroom Approach on College Student Academic Involvement,” 2015 

A. Singleton. “Empower Students to Think Deeply, Discuss Engagingly and Write Definitely in the University Classroom,” Union University, 2009 

See also Kendall Library articles on ERIC and Academic Search 


“Education has to be student-centered,” Jim Applegate address before the NACADA Annual conference, 2012 


“Teaching in the 21st Century,” Sonja Delafosse 


Marykellen Weimer.  Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, John Wiley & Sons, 2002 

John Barell ed. 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, Chapter 6, “Designing New Learning Environments to Support 21st Century Skills, Solution Tree, 2010 

Mary E. Huba and Jann E. Freed.  Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning. 



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