Foundations for Learner-Centered Education: A Knowledge Base

Article excerpt

Learner-Centered Education: A Definition *

The Citadel has for its conceptual framework Learner-Centered education. This is a fluid theoretical model which is subject to change, and, indeed, does continuously change as the faculty continues to redefine this term. The following statement was the basis for The Citadel's original concept of learner-centered education.

   Learner-Centered Education is
   defined by McCombs and Whisler
   (1997, p.9) as: The perspective that
   couples a focus on individual
   learners (their heredity, experiences,
   perspectives, backgrounds,
   talents, interests, capacities, and
   needs) with a focus on learning
   (the best available knowledge about
   learning and how it occurs and
   about teaching practices that are
   most effective in promoting the
   highest levels of motivation, learning,
   and achievement for all
   learners.)
   This dual focus, then, informs and
   drives educational decision-making.

In this perspective, learner-centered education involves the learner and learning in the programs, policies, and teaching that support effective learning for all students. Administrators are responsible for developing, maintaining and enhancing a school environment that enhances effective learning. They are also responsible for ensuring that teachers are knowledgeable about their students and about how learning occurs best. Teachers are responsible for having classrooms that promote effective learning for all and for being familiar with the instructional techniques that promote effective learning for all. School counselors are concerned with improving both the conditions for learning (parent education, classroom environment, teacher attitude) and with helping each learner develop to his/her fullest potential. The following five premises support these assertions.

1. Learners have distinctive perspectives or frames of reference, contributed to by their history, the environment, their interests and goals, their beliefs, their ways of thinking and the like. These must be attended to and respected if learners are to become more actively involved in the learning process and to ultimately become independent thinkers.

2. Learners have unique differences, including emotional states of mind, learning rates, learning styles, stages of development, abilities, talents, feelings of efficacy, and other needs. These must be taken into account if all learners are to learn more effectively and efficiently.

3. Learning is a process that occurs best when what is being learned is relevant and meaningful to the learner and when the learner is actively engaged in creating his or her own knowledge and understanding by connecting what is being learned with prior knowledge and experience.

4. Learning occurs best in an environment that contains positive interpersonal relationships and interactions and in which the learner feels appreciated, acknowledged, respected, and validated.

5. Learning is seen as a fundamentally natural process; learners are viewed as naturally curious and basically interested in learning about and mastering their world.

* Taken from The Citadel Undergraduate Catalog (2002-2003, p. 207)

Central emphasis and understanding emerge from an integrated and holistic examination of a learner-centered approach. For educational systems to serve the needs of every learner, it is essential that every instructional decision focuses on the individual learner--with an understanding of the learning process.

The history of learner-centered education has one foot in philosophy and the other in psychology. Following is a cursory review of some of the important contributions of educational philosophy to the development of learner-centered education followed by a review of some of the most important contributions of educational psychology. This section, titled "Philosophical Knowledge Base" will be followed by a similar section titled "Psychological Knowledge Base. …