Documentation:Learner Centered Teaching

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What does learner centered mean?

Being learner entered in your teaching, basically represents a shift in thinking away from "what will I teach" to "how will students learn?"

Maryellen Weimer, professor and author of Learner Centered Teaching - 5 Key Changes to Practice suggests that being learner-centered means: Being learner-centered focuses attention squarely on learning: what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning.[1]

Weiner suggests that when the shift occurs from what will I teach to what will students learn, 5 additional shifts need to happen:

  1. Balance of power: social justice role in education students need more opportunities to challenge dominant myths and power structures and not just be socialized into the dominant ideals of the institution. Friere was influential. Shared power means negotiating that role in the classroom and being clear about intentions.
  2. Function of content: content is the means to knowledge and understanding not the end. Constructivism suggests that students can be provided the tools and guided in the process of discovering meaning for themselves.
  3. Role of Instructor: as a guide and curator rather than the arbiter of all knowledge.
  4. Responsibility for learning: as students take more responsibility for their earning and outcomes - they often need specific instruction and support for becoming self directed in their learning - this falls to the instructor.
  5. Assessment: Role and function of assessment is to support learning. The who, how and why of assessment needs to be aligned with course goals and learning needs.

The core of a good learning environment

From a learner's perspective, there are some basic requirements for an effective learning environment that go beyond academic considerations and get to the core of the learning experience: belonging, relevance/authentic work, honouring diversity of experience. These appear (under slightly different terms) in a recent project to explore the link between student wellness and teaching practices at UBC.

Caulfield's core values in open education.
These requirements happen to be core values underpinning open pedagogical practices. In a recent blog post about New Directions in Open Education, educator and technologist Mike Caulfield[2] identified the "human core of open" as serving these three important needs. I suspect any great learning environment attends to these.


Have any of you ever walked into a class or signed into a learning environment and thought - “wait, what am I doing here?”

  • At those times, is there anything that happened to change your mind - something instructor, other learners did?
  • Recent well-being study at UBC finds that belonging and community are key aspects of student well being and there are many ways to address belonging in the learning environment - learn names, having students work in study groups, etc.
  • Feeling of “not belonging” can be even more of a barrier for socially stigmatized “minority” students. Article in Science in 2011 that reported that when a program related to social belonging was introduced to college freshman - it made a huge impact on the GPAs of African American students - over 3 years - effectively cutting the acheivment gap by half - in addition to improving overall health and well being of that group. Reference:

Implications for teaching:

  • modify and customize course readings and materials
  • documenting shared fears/hopes - what are you most afraid of? what are you most looking forward to?
  • sense of place: where did you come from?
  • learning circles or study groups that work together during the term.


Work that means something. Often this means something that students produce for an authentic audience - beyond the instructor.

  • UBC examples: Wikipedia projects: to enhance, improve or add to the articles available on topics such as Canadian literature, Spanish literature, Food Science or Women Artists. More relevant than a term paper to many students and makes an authentic contribution to the body of knowledge available on a topic.

Implications for teaching:

  • space for students to create real things for authentic audiences (open publishing, use of open data, building, contributing, remixing)
  • work on real problems/challenges in the world
  • link course goals to big ideas, challenges and broader context

Diversity of Experience

  • Unique perspectives contribute to the learning environment in any class. Capitalize on that

Implications for teaching:

  • acknowledging diversity of student strengths and knowledge requires an "ecosystem of many explanations, not just the “textbook” explanation" (Caulfield).


  1. Weimar, M. (2013) Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.