Hero photograph
Photo by Darren Sudlow

Strategies: Learner Centred

Darren Sudlow —

Learner-centeredness is about enabling the construction of knowledge based on goals that are important to the learner. It is the recognition of learners as diverse individuals with different interests, needs, and capabilities.

In traditional teacher-directed and lecture-based models of learning, the teacher projects information to a group of learners. As you transition to online, you will find that teaching to a group is simply not as effective. You may also find your teaching becoming more personalized according to student needs. Finally, in the full implementation of learner-centredness, the teacher (now, the facilitator ) provides the structure and guidance that allows learners to create and participate in a network of learning. We can visualize learners making connections, not only with the teacher but with classmates and external sources. We can also see them taking responsibility for their own learning and following individual learning paths that are engaging, motivating, and meaningful to them.


Learner-centeredness is about enabling the construction of knowledge based on goals that are important to the learner. It is the recognition of learners as diverse individuals with different interests, needs, and capabilities.

Learner-centered environments inherently provide the capacity to individualize to learners’ specific needs. The structure of online environments can facilitate learner-centered approaches by allowing learners to direct the sequence and focus of inquiry through interfaces that allow flexibility in the completion of tasks. Learner-centeredness is facilitated in online environments with activities that are self-directed, authentic, and incorporate structured decision- making processes.

Learner-centeredness is not a new idea. It has been studied extensively in traditional educational environments. The literature surrounding this ideal of best practice and its application in online environments will be discussed in the following section.

McCombs and Vakili (2005) operationalized the LCPs into a set of practice implications that can be used to guide your teaching practices in online environments:

  • Practices should integrate learning and motivational strategies to help students become self-directed learners.
  • Practices should include pre-assessments and ongoing assessments of students’ interests, goals, background knowledge, and needs to better tailor practices to each individual.
  • Mechanisms should be in place to better connect other learners in learning communities and/or communities of practice.
  • Students should be involved in co-creating instruction and all instructional experiences with their “teachers” and others in their learning communities.
  • Practices should address both community and individual personal needs; community is not defined geographically, but by shared interest in the subject matter and adaptability.
  • Concepts of “emergent” curricula are at the heart of the system; each learner or community of learners can, at any period of time and based on their needs/purposes, create curricula that include dynamic and up-to-date information.
  • Curriculum should be customized based on pre-assessment and ongoing assessment data to allow learners the opportunity to see the progress they are making.
  • Curriculum should be flexible and dynamic, with a minimum of structure based on student needs and/or developmental considerations.
  • Feedback should be available for student review “on call,” so that it can be used for self-evaluation of progress; it is available for others to see when students are “ready” to submit work; feedback provides ways for students to remediate and enrich their knowledge and skills in areas of choice as appropriate. (p. 1587)

Learner autonomy, or the ability to take responsibility for one’s own learning, is a desirable characteristic for all learners. Self-regulating learning strategies have been found to have a positive relationship with the ability to think critically and use metacognitive strategies in online learning environments, which in turn may lead to higher gains in achievement (Artino & Stephens, 2006; Kawachi, 2003; Meyer, 2003).

Traditional learning aids—such as the use of modeling, prompting, and coaching—are tools often used to teach strategies for reflective thinking and problem solving, with the ultimate goal being a gradual release of responsibility to the learner. Online environments can encourage learners to take initiative in their own learning by seeking out information and building connections. Lee and Gibson (2003) suggest that independent learning “can be developed in an online environment if that environment is designed and facilitated in ways to encourage dialogue, provide flexibility in structure, and allow students to take some responsibility, assuming some control in a critically reflective way” (p. 186 ). Providing additional resources, allowing choices in completion of tasks, and establishing private and collaborative spaces for dialogue allows learners flexibility for explorations in line with their personal interests, either on their own or in conjunction with others.