Coming from the premise that teaching is supposed to
facilitate learning, I am a strong advocate of learnercentred
methods that focus on students (i.e. learners)
rather than the teacher. Weimer (2002) highlights five key areas that need to be changed when using learner-centred
teaching approaches. In this paper, I will discuss the five
areas briefly and show how they have been incorporated
into my teaching.
- The Balance of Power
In most courses, teachers make most, if not all, decisions
pertaining to syllabus, textbooks, assignments and
course policies. However, Weimer (2002) challenges that
students could be given more power to make decisions for
their own learning and argues that student involvement in
making decisions associated with learning not only has
a positive impact on students' educational experiences
but also motivates students to work harder for the course.
From my own experience in both undergraduate teaching
as well as honours-year project supervision, I find that
students are indeed more motivated when they participate
in the decision-making process. For example, students
enjoy working on their projects more when they are given
the autonomy to choose the nature and scope of their
projects. This is a simple way a teacher can 'share power'
with learners. However, one would probably need more
courage to experiment with more radical approaches
mentioned in Weimer's book!
- The Function of Content
As teachers, we often wonder how much content is
enough or which chapters of the textbook to cover.
Weimer (2002) challenges her readers to consider a
new content-learning relationship. Firstly, she argues
that content, though important, is only a vehicle to
help students develop communication or study skills.
Secondly, content is used to promote self-awareness
of learning (i.e. content as a means for students to
understand how they learn and discover their strengths
and weaknesses). In her book, Weimer (2002) defines
self-awareness as "the foundation on which further
development as a confident, self-directed, and self-regulated
learner grows" (p. 51-52). Finally, content
also provides the context for students to learn and apply
I agree totally with the author's views on the functions
of content. As university teachers, our teaching goals
should not be confined to merely helping students
master the subject; we should aim to develop students'
communication and critical thinking skills as well as
the ability to apply their knowledge to solve problems.
In my teaching for example, I attempt to help students
learn independently and develop their communication
skills by getting them to research and present to the class
a topic of their choice. Such assignments help students
learn from supplementary course materials when they
do research and develop communication skills when
they make presentations. From the student feedback
I received, they do appreciate the skills they develop
through such an exercise.
- The Role of the Teacher
In learner-centred teaching, the teacher's role is similar
to that of a guide, facilitator or coach. On the surface,
the learner-centred approach may seem to simplify the
roles and responsibilities of teachers, but it actually
requires teachers to put in more effort and work. As the
approach focuses on learners and what they are doing,
teachers have to put more time and effort in designing
instructional activities and assignments which are to
become the main vehicles through which learning occurs.
In addition to tasks associated with traditional modes of
teaching such as organising content, generating examples
and crafting questions, teachers have to create and
maintain classroom conditions conducive to learning-centred
activities and methods.
- The Responsibility for Learning
In learner-centred teaching, the responsibility of
learning is shifted from the teacher to learners.
Students have to be responsible for their own learning
while teachers help by building student autonomy and
responsibility in class. While this may be possible for
motivated students who are interested in the subject,
the teacher would need to put in extra time and effort
to help weaker students who are unmotivated to learn.
Weimer (2002) suggests several different policies and
practices that could develop students' maturity and help
them take responsibility for their own learning. One of
the approaches I have tried is to invite students who
did badly for the midterm test to meet me individually.
During the meeting, I would find out more on the
student's study practices, and allow him/her to suggest
what he/she could do to be better prepared for the exam.
Encouraging students and expressing confidence in their
abilities can help students take responsibility for their
- The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation
Weimer (2002) suggests that evaluation can be used in
learner-centred teaching to generate grades and promote
learning. This is one of the most important teaching
practices I have adopted. For example, in addition
to the grade students receive for their assignments, I
always make it a point to provide detailed feedback
and comments. Weimer (2002) goes one step further to
suggest that comments and grades should be separated.
For example, the teacher could return the assignment with
comments only and get students to write their responses
to the comments before giving the grade. According to
Weimer (2002), other practical approaches which could
help students become self-directed learners include peer-assessment
as well as ways to reduce exam-related stress
so that exams can promote better learning.
In short, changes to the above-mentioned five areas are
a paradigm shift from traditional teaching practices
that we may be used to, but they are worth considering
if we are serious about learner-centred teaching. From
my own experience, I find it more manageable to
introduce changes incrementally each semester, instead of implementing them all at once. I highly recommend
Weimer's book as she provides many real life examples
from her own experience in teaching undergraduates and
offers practical suggestions supported by pedagogical
theories as well as studies that have been conducted. The
book has certainly helped me to reflect on my teaching
philosophy and practices and inspired me to introduce
new ways to encourage student learning.
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to
Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.