engaged learning

What is Learner-Centered Teaching (LCT)?

"A paradigm shift is taking hold in American higher education. In its briefest form, the paradigm that has governed our colleges is this: A college is an institution that exists to provide instruction. Subtly but profoundly we are shifting to a new paradigm: A college is an institution that exists to produce learning. This shift changes everything. It is both needed and wanted."

-Barr and Tagg (1995, p. 13)

A paradigm shift is occurring in higher education. Traditionally, teaching in higher education has focused on providing instruction; however, a shift from providing instruction to producing student learning is occurring across institutions of higher education. This learner-centered teaching (LCT) approach take a constructivism approach to student learning. Weimer (2013) lists 5 key areas of LCT:

  • The Balance of Power
  • The Function of Content
  • The Role of the Teacher
  • The Responsibility of Learning
  • The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation

Student resistance is a common response to implementation of LCT. The LCT approach requires more work for both the students and professor. Rather than memorizing information for the test, students are expected to take greater responsibility for their own learning. This can create a loss of certainty for students. Changing to an LCT approach can cause anxiety in some students when unfamiliar practices are employed. Doyle (2008) suggests three ways to combat student resistance: 

  • Understand why students resist roles and responsibilities of LCT
  • Share reasons for using LCT approach, backed with research, with students
  • Teach students new skills they need to be successful 

Many different pedagogies would fit under the LCT approach. The elements of LCT can be found in Team-Based Learning (TBL), Problem-Based Inquiry, Flipped Classrooms, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), and Just-In-Time Teaching (JIT). Choosing a particular pedagogy depends on the objectives of the class or activity. What these pedagogies have in common is that the responsibility for learning, the roles the student and teacher, and function of content align with the LCT approach. 

Benefits of LCT Approach

"The goal of learner-centered teaching is the development of students as autonomous, self-directed, and self-regulated learners."

-Wiemer (2013, p. 10)

Weimer (2013) lists the benefits of LCT approach:

  • Promoted deeper learning over surface learning
  • Students show more self-directed and self-regulated learning
  • Students show more motivation because they have control over their learning
  • LCT promotes active learning
  • Greater improvement in communication skills for students in LCT courses than students in non-LCT courses
  • Greater improvement in learning for students in LCT courses than students in non-LCT courses
  • Greater improvement in group skills for students in LCT courses than students in non-LCT courses

LCT as a Coherent, Engaged Teaching Philosophy

(Adapted from Tolman, 2008)

Context: Respect for Students, Warmth, Emotional Safety, Personal Interest in Students' Lives

Context: Developmental approach to curricula and to classroom assignments and learning goals

Content is used to build knowledge and core competencies in the discipline

  • Backwards Design
  • Focus on why they need to learn this material
  • Development of critical thinking skills (moving up Bloom's Taxonomy to levels 4-6)
  • Organizing schemes
  • Use of real-world problems and problem-solving
  • Use of content to encourage lifelong learning in the discipline
  • Community engaged learning
  • Service Learning
  • Focus on development of discipline-related skills e.g. ability to evaluate primary source material, understanding of research methodologies, patterns of inquiry within the discipline

Instructor as Facilitator or Guide for Learning

  • Objective Map (alignment of course objectives, learning processes, and assessment)
  • Explicit use of SMART objectives
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Other Collaborative Learning methods, e.g. Conceptual Workshops
  • Student Panel Presentations
  • Student substitute teaching
  • Student-led class discussions

Increasing Student Personal Responsibility for Learning 

  • Learning approaches (e.g. deep vs. surface)
  • KWL or KWLA; Metacognitive exercises e.g. assignments focusing on student personal goals, assessment of individual progress, use of effective study strategies, readiness to change and learn, Perry's Developmental steps
  • Student-led original research projects
  • Exam Feedback
  • Emphasis on learning skill development, e.g. SQ4R (for reading) Concept Maps Effective note-taking Technology skills Group work skills Writing skills Oral communication Information literacy skills (framing questions, accessing and evaluating sources, evaluating content, using information legally)

Integration of Assessment into the Learning Process

  • Formative assessment procedures, e.g. revisions to papers, group exams following individual exams
  • Effective use of rubrics
  • Use of peer and self-assessments as part of the content learning in the course
  • Multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery and to demonstrate learning from mistakes
  • Students are asked to justify their answers when they disagree with the instructor
  • Explicit agreement on timeframes for feedback between students and instructor
  • Use of "authentic" assessment (based on what professionals and practitioners do)

Power sharing with students in the classroom

  • Student involvement in determining elements of course content
  • Students are encouraged to explore additional content via assignments or projects
  • Students are encouraged to express alternative perspectives, if appropriate
  • Contract grading
  • Mastery grading
  • Student choices in completing assignments (e.g. multiple paths to achieve goal)
  • Flexibility and student input on course policies, assessment methods, learning strategies, and deadlines
  • Class and other assignments are "opportunities to learn"; flexibility in working with students around these opportunities both in and out of class




Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning - A new paradigm For undergraduate education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Education, 27(6), 12-26.

Doyle, T. (2008). Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Doyle, T. (2011). Learner-Centered Teaching: Putting the Research on Learning Into Practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus. 

Tolman (2008). LCT as a Coherent, Engaged Teaching Philosophy. Unpublished manuscript, Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence, Utah Valley University 

Tagg, T. (2003). The Learning Paradigm College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes To Practice (2nd ed.).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.