Higher education is going through a transformation from being teacher-centered to being learner-centered. The emphasis is on what students learn, not on what faculty teach. (Students, unfortunately, don't learn everything we teach.) Research suggests that students who are actively engaged in their courses learn more, and teachers facilitating this "active learning" mode are "guides on the side" rather than "sages on the stage." Their role is to facilitate learning, rather than transmit information.
"'Guiding' Students to Learning," an article in the October 2000 issue of The Teaching Professor (p. 5-6), summarizes seven principles for facilitating learning. As in most endeavors, balance is important. It is not that learner-centered teachers act entirely differently than teacher-centered teachers, but their approach changes the balance of what they and their students do when they interact.
1. "Teachers do fewer learning tasks." Learner-centered teachers are less likely to provide closing summaries and preliminary reviews, ask questions, offer examples, solve problems, make graphs, etc. They encourage students to learn by doing these tasks, not by watching their teachersŐ perform them.
2. "Teachers do less telling." Learner-centered teachers spend less time telling the students everything. They encourage students to figure out how to do things and to discover what things mean.
3. "Teachers do more design work." Learner-centered teachers carefully design assignments and class activities to help students learn. These assignments and activities are appropriately motivating, challenging, and focused so students become engaged, are proud of their progress, and master learning objectives.
4. "Faculty do more modeling." Learner-centered teachers are masters of their discipline, and student "apprentices" learn by observing how disciplinary experts attack the problems they encounter.
5. "Get students working with each other." Learner-centered teachers understand group dynamics and carefully structure activities that generate the synergy of cooperative and collaborative learning.
6. "Faculty work to create climates for learning." Learner-centered teachers recognize that classroom climate can stifle or foster learning. They provide a climate which encourages students to look forward to class and to take responsibility for their own learning.
7. "Faculty focus less on grading and do more with feedback." Learner-centered teachers, like all faculty, are responsible for assigning valid grades, but they are more likely to use graded course components and other course activities to provide formative feedback to foster student learning.