Part 2: Be a better trainer: Learner-Centered Instruction

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks — and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”
Herb Simon, 2001

teaching cartoon

There are a lot of good instructors out there. I bet you are one of them. We know you. We have seen you teach. We are fortunate to have you in our changing industry to train our workforce. You are an essential part of how we will achieve a sustainable and economically strong future through the spread of reliable clean energy technology.

You share captivating stories from the field. You respond to every question with technical expertise and real-world experience. You get high praise from students in evaluations. But the class really isn’t about you, is it? It’s a potent reminder that it’s about the student, and what they take from class.

In a recent article, I shared my commitment to become a better trainer. Since I acknowledged that there is room for improvement, ways to improve my instruction seem obvious. However, I have been too set in my traditional delivery methods to see. You know – if it ain’t broke… In fact, I didn’t even look up to see if my students were learning what I was TELLING (not teaching!) them until the end of class. True confession!

It’s time for some transformational change.

The task at hand – changing my instruction from teacher-centered (‘sage on the stage’) to learner-centered. (Are my students getting it?) From now on, it’s about the student.

There is much to say on the topic, but for now, think about what it would take to shift your thinking and your style of instruction from teacher-centered to learner-centered. Here’s how it might look:

Teacher-Centered Instruction Learner-Centered Instruction
Teacher covers topics Students master learning objectives
Knowledge is transmitted from teacher to students Students synthesize information into contextual knowledge that can be applied to a real-life situation
Teacher presents information well andthose who can will learn Teacher uses classroom assessment to improve courses – content and instruction
Teaching and assessing are separate Teaching and assessing are intertwined
Assessment is used only to give grades Assessment is used to promote learning and diagnose problem areas
Emphasis is on right answers Emphasis is on generating better questions and learning from errors

Adapted from: Comparison of Teacher-centered and Learner-centered paradigms

As teachers, we humbly share our knowledge with the intention of inspiring, of making an impact. Assuming we teachers know our stuff and we’re coming from a deep sense of purpose, then it should matter less about what we say and more about what the student remembers and can apply.

We have an advantage. Today’s learning environments are much more collaborative and interactive than when I (maybe you too?) was in school. Students expect to interact, rather than be lectured at. So let’s find out what our students know, through assessment, and make the necessary changes in what we do to help them master the material.

Let’s make it about the students.

Other resources

  • Good Teaching Matters, Barbara Martin, Ph.D
  • Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses by Huba and Freed 2000
  • Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education by Allen 2004


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