Tag Archives: active learning

What Is Learner-Centered?

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

While there doesn’t seem to be one definition for the student or learner-centered approach in higher education, Barbara McCombs, author of two books on learner-centered teaching, provides a comprehensive definition including three features (in italics) discussed below:

The core of the LCM [Learner-Centered Model] is that all instructional decisions begin with knowing who the learners are – individually and collectively.

Instructors need to take into account who they are teaching. Each student comes to class with their own past—academically and experientially. They also come with their own goals. Not everyone will succeed in the same way and with the same type of instruction. Personalized learning data is key to understanding and supporting this aspect of the student-centered approach. Instructors can obtain this data by analyzing each student’s work and engaging with them.

Courseware that incorporates personalized learning (see previous post, One Size Fits All…Not) makes this process easier and more productive. The data that instructors obtain from courseware helps instructors reach individuals and the class as a whole in real time. This allows instructors to use their time in a more focused way to move the whole class forward.

This [the first tenet] is followed by thoroughly understanding learning and how best to support learning for all people in the system.

Approaches to student-centered learning are innovative, and varied. They usually fall into these categories:

  • Activity-based learning such as discovery exercises, exchange of ideas (in person or online), simulations, problem-based learning, and project-based learning
  • Choice such as students choosing assignments, when and where they study, how they want to approach a topic, and deadlines
  • Collaboration such as team-based learning and peer exchanges
  • Real-world challenges such as problem-solving and community outreach
  • Metacognition such as transparency of progress and learning pathways, reflection on learning, and self-motivation

Quality courseware includes most if not all of these types of support for learner-centered programs.

Decisions about what practices should be in place at the school and classroom levels depend upon what we want learners to know and be able to do.

Learning outcomes based on instructor-determined teaching goals are integral to the success of student-centered learning. The student-centered approach changes but doesn’t eliminate the role of the instructor in the learning equation. While the instructor’s role is no longer mainly about transferring knowledge, it’s still about determining what students should learn and how they learn it.

At the institutional level, faculty coming together on how to implement the student-centered approach strengthens the success potential of the approach. Creating learning outcomes across departments and connected to institutional outcomes is important. Faculty have also begun to value using personalized courseware that works across subject matter areas so that students are engaged in a consistent method of learning.

What we see as innovative for instructors is also innovative for students, particularly those in higher education today who are used to more traditional methods of learning. The more practice learners get at student-centered learning, the more impactful the approach will be. And that applies to those implementing it as well.

#edtech #learner-centered

Is There a Lecture Learning Gap?

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Annie Murphy Paul’s recent blog, Are College Lectures Unfair?  gives us another look at the weaknesses of the lecture format as a teaching method. She reminds us that teaching through lecture is a cultural phenomenon.

According to Norm Friesen’s, The Lecture as a Transmedial Pedagogical Form: A Historical Analysis, the education lecture originated in the early Middle Ages to transmit the written word, first, literally, as lecturers read to their audiences many of whom copied down exactly what they heard so they would have the material in written form. After the Gutenberg press made books available to the public, lecturers also included well-respected commentaries in their presentations.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance, that lecturers started giving original talks reflecting their own ideas. By the 20th century, when audio and video came into play, lectures started evolving into multimedia presentations. Guides on how to give effective lectures including tips on speech delivery, engaging students, and multimedia integration continue to advise instructors on best lecture practices.

As Paul points out, not only are lectures the mainstay of higher education, they are also embedded in online courses such as MOOCs. There is a lot of contradiction on the place of lectures in education. Friesen notes that you can even watch TED talks on the ineffectiveness of lectures. Even if the speaker isn’t behind a podium, it’s still a lecture. How many lectures on pedagogy have you attended that tell you that’s not the best way to teach?

Friesen supports the continued use of the lecture format. He sees lectures as “bridging oral communication with writing and newer media technologies, rather than as being superseded by newer electronic and digital forms.”

In contrast, Paul questions whether the lecture format meets the learning needs of all students. She reviews studies on how lecture courses affect women, minorities, and first-generation and low-income students (non-dominants) who haven’t historically come from or participated equally in the dominant Western culture of well-off white males (dominants).

Paul found that non-dominants do more poorly than dominants when a course is lecture-centered. In the studies she reviewed, professors engaged students with active pedagogical approaches such as questions, exercises, and collaborative work, that required students to engage with the subject matter more than they would with lectures.

All groups did well with activity-based learning. And, non-dominants benefited even more than dominants. In one study, the achievement gap between white and black students decreased by 50% and the divide between first-generation college students and those with a family history of college disappeared.

Paul ends her article with this question:

Given that active-learning approaches benefit all students, but especially those who are female, minority, low-income and first-generation, shouldn’t all universities be teaching this way?

Education technology advocates are responding to Paul’s question with robust digital programs in which students learn through activities such as participating in simulations, completing exercises, drawing diagrams, initiating peer communication, and problem-solving. As higher education institutions and instructors integrate these programs into their courses, they will write the next chapter on how higher education courses are taught.

Do You Inter-Mind?

Before the ubiquity of the Internet, getting the answer to a question such as when was the computer invented could take a long time and some serious effort. You might call a friend, read about it in a book, or even go to the library. Now answers can be as close as your nearest digital device.

In a Scientific American article, “The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories,” psychologists Daniel Wegner and Adrian Ward discuss what using the Internet can mean for human cognitive abilities. They asked students to research trivia online and then tested them on recall. They found that those who used the Internet believed that they were smarter when they gave the right answers than those who did not use the Internet. The researchers’ conclusion:

These results hint that increases in cognitive self-esteem after using Google are not just from immediate positive feedback that comes from providing the right answers. Rather, using Google gives people the sense that the Internet has become part of their own cognitive tool set. A search result was recalled not as a date or name lifted from a Web page but as a product of what resided inside the study participants’ own memories, allowing them to effectively take credit for knowing things that were a product of Google’s search algorithms.

Wegner and Ward suggest that the more we rely on technology answers to trivial questions, the more the possibility of creating a true merger between the human brain and technology, resulting in an “Inter-mind.” They see this possibility very positively:

As we are freed from the necessity of remembering facts, we may be able as individuals to use our newly available mental resources for ambitious undertakings. And perhaps the evolving Inter-mind can bring together the creativity of the individual human mind with the Internet’s breadth of knowledge to create a better world—and fix some of the set of messes we have made so far.

The hopefulness of these researchers is very refreshing when others argue strongly that computers make us dumb (see my post, Is Smart Technology Making Us Dumb?)

Still, we cannot assume that freeing previously used brain space to remember facts such as what is the name of that actor on the screen or when was the March on Washington will necessarily lead to cleaning up the “messes” of the world. The latter involves keen social abilities and complicated thought processes such as making connections, logical thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving. These abilities are not somewhere in our brains simply waiting to move over into vacated space. They have to be cultivated and practiced.

Fortunately, educators are working to do just that in many ways from advocating that everyone learn computer science because it embodies new ways to evaluate and solve problems to teaching critical thinking to incorporating active learning in curricula. Let’s hope that these efforts ensure that our Inter-minds use the new room in our brains for the kind of thinking that will make the world a better place.