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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Student-Centered Learning: Target or Locus for Universities?

Trent Batson always writes both eloquent and very relevant articles and this is no exception. I quote but three brief paragraphs from a very challenging post:

"Student-centered learning has been largely a rhetorical distinction for decades - e.g., more group work or less group work - because, practically speaking, everything happened in the classroom. But now, student-centered learning has, as a concept, particularly in the past five years, come to encompass a vastly wider variety of choices, about how to design and plan for it.

"Now, the distinction is not just rhetorical, but a life style distinction: scarcity learning (content delivery) in the classroom or abundance learning (discovery) often out in real-world situations. In scarcity learning, the student is the target for delivery systems, while in abundance learning the student is the locus, the starting point, of learning.

"Higher education has unwittingly chosen to use the very technologies that have changed our broader economy to resist change in education. In the free market, in society, people are choosing to use technology inventively and boldly, but in the controlled market of the academy, administrators limit the technology options and proceed without imagination or courage, except in rare cases."

The points that Trent identifies have worried me for over a decade now. My son left High-School at the age of 16 with 11 good GCSE grades hoping to do even better at College. Unfortunately he found the lecturers dull and in his estimation not always competent in their subjects. The textbooks that he was supposed to work from were generally out of date (and expensive) and the coursework moronically boring. Invariably, in his Computing classes, he found himself supporting other learners rather than extending his own competencies. It was not long before he left in disgust.

My concern at that time was simple: "Why should we encourage our pupils to be bright enquiring collaborative learners if all their new learning skills were to be 'rubbished' by the colleges and universities?"

Fourteen years later it would appear that the same scenario still exists. Trent's conclusions need careful contemplation - and application, not only in HE but also in mainstream education.

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