Learner-Centered Teaching Book Review – Part 1

learner-centered-teaching-book.jpgThis book went to the top of my reading list because a colleague (an Associate Provost at a respected graduate school) shared that he was buying copies to give to every one of his faculty members. In the last year, I’ve  moved my online course to a learner-centered model, and I wish I had heard about Maryellen Weimer’s book sooner; it would have saved me some time and frustration. My goal here is to do that for you, to give you an in-depth overview of her book, and to encourage you to pick up a copy.

Quick Overview

When she went back to teaching in the undergraduate classroom, Maryellen Weimer hit a mid-life-teaching crisis.  She relates that, “Like any mid-career faculty, I was looking for new ideas–partly out of need for growth and change, and partly because a lot of what I saw in classrooms was so ineffective.” So, she tried something new, and she turned the tables of learning. Instead of dispensing knowledge, she began to move her students into the driver’s seat of their own learning. What she witnessed was a profound change, a profound change in her students’ quality of learning and in her own role as a teacher.

Weimer boils learner-centered teaching down into five key aspects of instructional practice, and she gives each its own distinct chapter. I’ll be devoting a blog post to each these  key aspects. (scroll down to the bottom of this post for the different parts)

The Five Key Changes to Practice

1. The Role of the Teacher
2. The Balance of Power
3. The Function of Content
4. The Responsibility of Learning
5. The Purpose and Process of Evaluation

The Goal of Learner-Centered Teaching

The goal of conventional teaching has been to impart knowledge. Weimer says that this is not enough. She tells the story of how her husband graduated from an engineering program “…keenly disappointed with what he had learned, and stressed by the conditions under which he was expected to learn.” His confidence as a learner came, not from his formal education, but from his experiences learning with his father. That is what the educational process should do: it should develop learners, instead of impart knowledge to students.

“The goal of learner-centered teaching is the development of students as autonomous, self-directed  and self-regulating learners.”

What’s it Like to Make the Switch?

Learner-centered teaching is not easier, it requires more planning (instructional design), and we lose some of our trusty props and scripts. We lose our position as the central figure in the classroom, but we gain new learning partners as our students begin to do the discipline with us. You may assign many of the same assignments, but they will have new elements and goals. You may even change the layout of your classroom.

As I mentioned earlier, this year I transitioned my high school online course to a learner-centered model.  It took me ten years of thinking  “there has got to be a better way”, and it probably took me that long to get over myself enough to consider a different role as a teacher. My online classroom now looks more like my own early years learning alongside my own dad while we worked together in the wood shop, the garden, and his art studio. It would have been strange if he had lectured for a full hour and never let me try out the tools. That’s how it feels after having made the switch to learner-centered teaching. It’s hard to imagine going back to the conventional, content-centered model.

Want to Learn More?

In this series of posts I’ll review the five aspects of LCT, as well as Weimer’s tips for transitioning your course to a learner-centered model. She devotes an entire chapter to how to handle resistance (because LCT requires more from your learners), so I’ll be giving you a summary of that as well.

Get the book

Part 2 – The Role of the Learner-Centered Teacher

Part 3 – The Balance of Power in the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 4 – The Function of Content in the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 5 – The Responsibility for Learning in the Learner-Centered Model

Part 6 – The Purpose and Process of Evaluation in the Learner-Centered Model

Part 7 – Transitioning to Learner-Centered Teaching (a developmental approach) – coming soon

Part 8 – Dealing with Resistance to the Learner-Centered Approach – coming soon

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