A learner-centered instructional design is far more complex than providing riveting discussions or choices within the syllabus. A learner-centered focus demands a developmental understanding of how students transform into adults capable of making individual choices, managing multi-dimensional relationships and creating self-awareness to sustain growth over time. This chapter will address transformation (Mezirow, 2000), learner-centered pedagogy (Weimer, 2002), the demands of the millennial student, and the use of significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003) which incorporates both teaching and learning experience.
The theoretical framework presented here is a culmination of multiple publications by Dr. Karen Swanson (author) and Dr. Mary Kayler over the last seven years. We have been greatly influenced by Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda in self-authorship, Dr. Steven Brookfield in critical reflection, Dr. Maryellen Wiemer in learner-centered theory and Dr. Kathleen McKinney in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
A broad framework is necessary when faculty consider shifting to a learner-centered course design. Many times the motivation to restructure a course is to respond to student requests for autonomy, to increase engagement or to invigorate a traditional teaching style. However, many times faculty become quickly disillusioned if not prepared for the bigger picture of adult learning and how to design a learner-centered activity or syllabus. While both faculty and students begin with the best of intentions, learner-centered teaching and the required independent learning is at first a difficult dance to coordinate. Some of the common issues include student resistance, the time required for faculty to redesign content and instructional plans, the shift from exclusively summative assessment towards the inclusion of formative assessment.
The theoretical framework will begin with adult development for the purpose of providing faculty with an understanding that students are rarely lazy and/or unmotivated. If students are viewed from a development perspective, the instructional goal is to meet them where they are at and help them become self-directed for progress not only in an individual class but how they view lifelong learning.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Self-Assessment: An act in which one evaluates their performance based on a previously determined set of objectives. The evaluation is supported by evidence provided by the individual. The purpose of self-assessment is to provide a constructivist approach for an individual to measure their contribution or performance on a task.
Community Of Practice: A group of individuals who meet around a common topic which hold specialized vocabulary and ways of knowing. It is within this group that one learns the intricacies of the topic and also helps to build knowledge in other participants.
Adult Development: The process of individualizing one’s own thoughts in opinions. Development is promoted in the context of others such as parents, teachers and friends. One moves from a state of internalizing the beliefs held by others to a more sophisticated state of creating individualized views which incorporate parts and pieces from others.
Resistance: It is the process of passive or aggressive responses by students to instruction or assignments.
Learner-Centered Pedagogy: This refers to the process of teaching and learning in which students are at the heart of curriculum design, classroom interaction and evaluation techniques. For example, students are provided choice of readings, assignments and assessment tools in a class.