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What is learner-centeredness in teaching?


Katja Wirenius

lehtori, pedagogiikka
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Katja Danska

lehtori, pedagogiikka
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Crister Nyberg

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Maiju Kokkonen

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 24.03.2023

In this podcast we discuss together with our student about learner-centeredness in teaching. How we understand the subject, what are the key dimensions in student centered teaching and how we manage to implement it in our actions?

Podcast is produced and used as part of KESTO project and Ulysseus European University mentoring programme.

Podcast in text form

Interviewer 1 [00:00:04]: Welcome to listen to the Higher Education Pedagogy podcast which is produced by Kesto project and its network partners like Haaga-Helia and the European University Ulysseus. The Kesto project’s network researches and develops ethical sustainability expertise in cooperation with working life partners and university students and teachers. The aim of the network is to strengthen the ethical sustainability expertise among universities and working life in long-term cooperation. Research and development aims are to advance pedagogical and responsible business solutions, and ethically-sustainable operations. My name is Katja Wirenius, and I am working in Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Vocational Teacher Education. This podcast is about learner-centred pedagogy. Here with me are Haaga-Helia student Nicolas Struhar and my colleague Kirsi Hämäläinen.

Speaker 1 [00:01:11]: Yes. My name is Nicolas Struhar. I’m a student of the degree programme of Sports Coaching and Management in Vierumäki campus. I’m coming from Slovakia, and currently I’m in my work-placement year as a trainee lecturer.

Speaker 2 [00:01:31]: And I’m Kirsi Hämäläinen. I’m Principal Lecturer here at Haaga-Helia, and a Principal Lecturer of Sports Coaching.

Interviewer 1 [00:01:39]: Welcome to this podcast! So, we would like to start with you, Nikolas. How do you understand the meaning of learner-centred learning and teaching?

Speaker 1 [00:01:53]: Certainly, there are different definitions of what learner-centredness means. There are also different words for that: someone is using ‘student-centred’, someone is using ‘learning-centred’. Definitely, everyone is right. And, on the other side, no one is right. In teaching, what matters is the attention focus on what we teach, who we want to educate. And so, it is reasonable to use the word ‘student-centred’ because we aim for the student, for his needs, and we want to satisfy his learning, create an environment that he can learn the best in. But if we take the approach of student-centred, the attention on what is actually ‘student’, then we tend to perceive it as student as a customer, and the role of a faculty is the one serving to satisfy the student’s needs. If we take it from this perspective, we could say that the student is always right, as we say the customer is always right. We could say that the teachers or educators are serving the student as shop assistants. So, in that sense, education would be a product, and I’m not really convinced by this perspective. Rather, I would take the aim on the learning, because that’s what we aim for with the students – to teach them, to enhance learning in an appropriate learning environment. Therefore, if we use the term ‘learning-centred’, which was adapted lately by Professor Blumberg, then we can understand learning as abstract. It doesn’t represent any concrete value that we have to focus on, but we need to satisfy the learning and create the best learning environment, so the students can learn most efficiently.

Interviewer 1 [00:04:26]: Sounds really good. You are really into this subject. In a nutshell, the aim of learner-centred teaching is to focus on each student’s individual needs. As you said, the interests and the abilities in the learning process. We focus on knowing the student and their competence and goals. And we teachers try to create study paths that serve every student as well as possible. At first, it could be nice to hear more from our customers how this is done in practice. So, Nicolas, would you like to continue?

Speaker 1 [00:05:09]: Yes. There are several key dimensions established by Professor Weimer in the early-2000s. She defined five key dimensions that were developed lately by already-mentioned Professor Blumberg. And through those five key dimensions or the components, or the framework for learner-centred teaching, we can enhance the implementation or successfully implement the learning-centred teaching in our education. The first two steps to do so: we should emphasise the role of instructor and the development of student responsibility for learning. What it means is we clearly set what the role of instructor is, and what kind of role he has in a classroom. It can include developing learning outcomes that are enhancing the learner-centred teaching. It also includes different variations of learning and teaching methods. And then, aligning them into one direction with the course objectives. With the student responsibility for learning, definitely, the students are responsible for their learning. Yet, in a traditional classroom, we can see that the teacher takes the responsibility himself. But to do so and enhance that, we should emphasise developing a variety of skills such as reflection skills, learning skills, self-directed skills, lifelong learning skills, metacognitive skills, and so on. I could go and talk about those more. And if we can establish this essential component, this foundation of learner-centred teaching, then, from that pillar, we can move on towards the function of content, what content actually represents in our teaching. Does the teacher come to the classroom and say, “We are going to cover this because of…” But is it about covering, or is it about serving or satisfying the learning? And also, with the content, applying the content, the assessment is as important as applying the content. So, checking for the learning and developing or integrating different assessment methods in the learning. And lastly, balance of power: what kind of role the instructor has, how much power he has in the classroom, and how much we share and give to the students at the same time.

Interviewer 1 [00:08:31]: You really sound like a true professional already! You have really gone deep into this matter. What do you think, Kirsi?

Speaker 2 [00:08:39]: I think this is a great example. When a student is in an active role, it shows the best student centredness or learning centredness, if you would like to prefer that, is to learn and develop together, together with the teachers and the students.

Interviewer 1 [00:09:01]: Good to hear. And there are many important principles in learner-centred teaching. In teacher education, we discussed a lot about how to put these principles into action. So, in implementation, we tried to concentrate, for example, on encouraging students in participation, discussion, and active learning – the things that you already mentioned. And it’s really important that students get the feeling of ownership in their learning. To enable this, we need to focus on safe and positive learning environments, practice communication and collaborative skills, and also concentrate on empowering feedback.

Speaker 2 [00:09:40]: Yes. As Nicolas mentioned, assessment is one key element in teaching. For me at least, it’s the most difficult part very often. First of all, assessment should help somebody. In this case, it should definitely help the students, but it also can help ourselves to improve our work, and it can help the whole study programme to develop. In order to help students, the timing of the assessment is quite a key element. If it happens traditionally, it happens at the end of the studying process, it might not help that much. And if it’s just a number, it might not help that much. I think, also in assessment, the key element is how to learn skills. The better tools we provide for the students on how to learn skills, the best they get out of the assessment. And when we really put effort into assessment, so that we want to help the students to improve. So, that’s a very demanding element in teaching and one key element.

Interviewer 1 [00:11:10]: And if we look at the feedback, it’s actually a two-way street. We teachers also must take into account what students have to say about our actions, our processes, and our curriculums too. So, we want to take the students to the development process too. But how about you, Nicolas? Do you see that you have been in developing Haaga-Helia somehow?

Speaker 1 [00:11:38]: Definitely. Since I’m a trainee lecturer, one of the teachers, basically, in the programme where I have been studying is actually unique. And if I tell about this someone else outside of our university, they don’t believe me. Definitely, it is a valuable thing to bring the students and implement them into the development. Because they’ve gone through the process, they know what the weaknesses are. They know what doesn’t work and what doesn’t make sense to do, while the teachers might think the opposite. They think that this is very useful, and they can learn from it. And actually, students do not perceive any learning out of those actions. So, to give a student a word in a teaching process, I think, is very valuable and can support the further development of studies.

Interviewer 1 [00:12:47]: Okay. Thank you! It’s really nice to hear. And thank you for the discussion. Hopefully, we have now opened up these learned-centred actions, teaching and learning. It was a really good discussion. Thank you for your participation, Kirsi and Nicolas!