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Learner-Centered VS Learner-Driven Design

Mon Aug 9, 2021 at 07:30 AM

Allowing Students to Propel Their Own Learning

Learner-centered pedagogies often provide some level of increased freedom for how students will complete course learning objectives compared to more traditional top-down approaches. In providing more choices and learning pathways, instructors typically hope that students will also experience increased motivation and engagement in the course curriculum. However, these pedagogies and resulting course design are distinct from a “learner-driven” pedagogy, which has also been promoted because it further allows students to take an active role in deciding, planning, and creating course content. This high degree of autonomy over the learning process is meant to foster not only higher student motivation and engagement but also self-initiated action and inquiry. Thus, this teaching tip provides examples and suggestions for how to shift common course assignments and activities toward a more learner-driven approach.

Learner-Driven Content Presentation

In a traditional top-down course design, the instructor provides a single option for reviewing course content related to a learning objective, such as requiring students to watch an instructor-narrated PowerPoint presentation. Whereas, in a learner-centered approach, the instructor may provide multiple options for reading or reviewing the information, such as requiring students to watch a video OR read an article OR review a website. Finally, a learner-driven approach would ask students to create or share resources related to the learning objective. For example:

  • Share two online resources that you think demonstrate the arguments made in this week’s reading.
  • Create and share a presentation with your group that provides examples of the topic this week.
  • Evaluate two resources provided by your peers on this week’s topic.

Learner-Driven Assignments

Once again, in a traditional top-down course design, the instructor provides a single option for completing an assignment, such as requiring students to write a research paper. A learner-centered version of this assignment might be allowing students to choose from a predetermined list of options, such as writing a research paper OR creating and presenting a PowerPoint presentation OR creating a website. However, a learner-driven approach would allow the student to take part in analyzing and determining the options for completing the assignment based on the learning objective(s). For example:

  • Propose and complete a project that allows you to synthesize the main arguments from course readings and resources in Module 1. 

With this kind of learner-driven assignment, it is helpful to provide good examples of past student work.

Learner-Driven Discussion Forums

Finally, in a traditional top-down course design, the instructor designs a discussion forum in which students have one way they are required to participate, such as by responding to a single question or prompt created by the instructor with an initial post and a set number of reply posts to peers. A learner-centered approach to discussion forum design might be where the instructor creates a forum and adds multiple questions or prompts (this is called a Q&A Forum in Moodle), which students may choose from to make initial responses before continuing to make reply posts to peers. A learner-driven discussion forum design, once again, allows students some shared decision-making ability in how the discussion forum will address the learning objective(s). For example:

  • Your group is responsible for facilitating the class discussion this week. Select a topic related to this week’s course content and start a new thread to engage your classmates in further discussion about it. Be specific about how you would like your peers to respond to you and one another. 

Once again, depending on the experience level of students in the class, it is helpful to provide some model examples.

Both learner-centered and learner-driven pedagogies and course design contradict traditional expectations of student power and autonomy in the classroom. The experience level of students will greatly influence their understanding of how they are expected to participate in your class. Graduate-level students are more likely to be well-prepared to engage in a learner-driven approach when asked, whereas undergraduate students, especially underclassmen, might require significant explanation as to why they are being asked to contribute to portions of course content and planning that they are used to being completely determined by the instructor. Ultimately, incorporating elements of student-driven design has the potential to encourage our students to take more ownership and create deeper meaning in their learning experiences.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Jess Tess-Navarro is an Instructional Designer with e-LIS and has previously worked at OU in Student Affairs and as a Special Lecturer in the Department of WRT. She currently co-facilitates the e-LIS Quality Online Teaching Certification Course. Jess earned a Master of Arts from Michigan State in 2014 and Post Master's Certificate in Higher Education from OU in 2017.

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