I scrutinise the students' faces as they enter the classroom
one by one: I see a cheerful face eagerly scanning the
room for someone familiar, a timid face looking for
a seat at the back of the room, and a nonchalant one
looking around blankly. These students, with different
personalities and learning styles, are expected to learn
the prescribed course content. And as their teacher, I
am expected to be learner-centred in the delivery of the
How will I teach them if I do not know how they learn
(Dunn & Griggs, 2000)? McCombs and Whisler (1997)
cite two important factors for a learner-centred teacher
to consider: (1) characteristics of the learners and
(2) teaching practices. Students learn differently and
appreciating their differences will help me teach them
better. There are three ways in which students differ and
these differences affect the way they learn:
- Learning styles (i.e. characteristic ways of taking in
and understanding information),
- Approaches to learning and orientations to studying
(i.e. surface, deep or strategic approach), and
- Intellectual development (i.e. attitudes about the
nature of knowledge and how it should be acquired
and evaluated) (Felder & Brent, 2005, p. 58).
As a learner-centred teacher, I must take these differences
into consideration and address them by employing
various teaching strategies, while providing a learning
environment that encourages students to take charge of
their own learning (Weimer, 2002) at the same time.
A learner-centred teacher is sensitive to the learners' "heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds,
talents, interests, capacities, and needs" (K.L. Brown,
2003, p. 50). In addition, as the learning context is
as important as the course contents and methods of
instruction in learner-centred teaching, the teacher
should not only concentrate on covering the course
content and materials but must "first consider learnerrelated
factors such as students' needs, prior knowledge,
talents, interests, social orientations, linguistic abilities,
and cultures" (D.M. Brown, 2003, p. 100). As a teacher
who learnt through the traditional lecture method, I
have to make a conscious effort not to teach students
the way I was taught previously by keeping abreast of
learner-centred teaching methods that address various
The way a student begins "to concentrate on, process,
internalize, and remember new and difficult academic information" (Dunn & Griggs, 2000, p. 9) defines his/
her learning style. Learning style theories recognise
the individual differences (e.g. cognition, emotion,
physiology, sociology) that affect learning. Research
also shows that teaching methods that match students'
learning styles can improve their academic performance
significantly (Giordano & Rochford, 2005). For
example, based on her research, Dodds (2004) reports
that "informing economic students of learning styles
and appropriate study methods appears to increase
exam scores and provides confidence in the choice of
study methods" (p. 355).
While research shows that greater learning occurs
when teaching and learning styles match, Felder and
Brent (2005) say that the teacher is not expected to
tailor-fit his/her teaching style according to students'
preferences. For example, if a teacher is inclined
towards meeting the needs of students with a particular
learning style, other students with different learning
styles will feel left out. Also, students who are
consistently taught through their dominant learning
styles will not know how to learn using their less
preferred learning styles. Thus, teachers should adopt
a balanced teaching style to help more students learn
effectively and become more flexible in the way they
learn. To this end, a learner-centred teacher must
employ different teaching methods to address students'
varied learning needs.
In my teaching, I use the following learner-centred
strategies to help students with different learning styles
learn and encourage them to be responsible for their
- Involving students in the planning of a unit of study,
including how they should be assessed, and, if there
is a paper to be submitted at the end of the unit,
students and I agree on the submission deadline.
Getting students involved in making such decisions
helps them take ownership of the course.
- Asking students 'What if' and 'What do you think'
questions during lectures to capture students'
attention and jump-start class discussions.
- Getting students to share (in groups or individually)
poetry and prose that reflect or relate to principles
or theories taught in class.
- Getting students to work in groups of three (each
student taking on the roles of the moderator, reporter
or recorder within the group) to ensure equal
participation from every student.
- Getting students to role play certain characters or
dramatise a situation. When this method is used,
students are usually required to write a reflection on
- Using visual aids such as pictures, diagrams,
flowcharts and films to complement lectures.
- Pointing out how a topic is connected to other topics
in the same course or with topics in other disciplines
to help global learners see the 'big picture' and
presenting information in a logical progression of
small steps to help sequential learners understand a
Knowing how students learn encourages me to apply
a variety of teaching strategies appropriate to different
learning styles so that students may learn when I
Brown, D.M. (2003). 'Learner-centered Conditions That Ensure
Students' Success in Learning'. Education, Vol. 124, No. 1,
pp. 99-104, p. 107.
Brown, K.L. (2003). 'From Teacher-centered to Learner-centered
Curriculum: Improving Learning in Diverse Classrooms'. Education,
Vol. 124, No. 1, pp. 49-54.
Dodds, R.A. (2004). 'Learning Style Appropriate Study Methods:
The Benefits of Awareness'. Atlantic Economic Journal, Vol. 32,
No. 4, p. 355.
Dunn, R. & Griggs, S.A. (eds.). (2000). Practical Approaches to Using
Learning Styles in Higher Education. Connecticut: Bergin &
Felder, R.M. & Brent, R. (2005). 'Understanding Student Differences'. Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 94, No. 1, pp. 57-72.
Giordano, J. & Rochford, R.A. (2005). 'Understanding Business Majors'
Learning Styles'. The Community College Enterprise, Vol. 11, No.
2, pp. 21-39.
McCombs, B.L. & Whisler, J.S. (1997). 'Learner-centered Classroom
and Schools: Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and
Achievement'. NASSP Bulletin, Vol. 81, pp. 1-14.
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to
Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.