A Balanced Approach to 21st Century Learning

Kimberly Hulbert October 14, 2019
Critics of contemporary education complain that school systems no longer meet the needs of the 21st century. One of their biggest criticisms is that the paradigm needs to change from teacher-directed instruction to student-centered instruction. Think deeper and it reveals that the demands of this century require not just the rise of progressive reform but a refitting of the roles of teachers and students. A balanced approach where each plays an active role in innovation, engagement, and invention. Student-centered learning: Friday’s Class defines student-centered learning as learning where “the focus is shifted from the teacher to the students.” Student centered learning methods include active learning, cooperative learning, and inductive teaching and learning. The student is the most important component of the equation, on all levels.”  Teacher-centered learning: While it’s difficult in today’s materials to find a definition that speaks to a positive perspective, a definition from EduGAINS, a website for Ontario schools, comes closest: “explicitly teaching [mathematical] rules, concepts, principles, and problem-solving strategies. This often includes modeling a variety of examples and guiding students during their review and practice.”  While teacher-directed instruction has recently enjoyed a stronghold on many school systems, progressive education with its core of student-centered learning got its start in the 16th century with John Amos Comenius in Moravia, “the proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their minds with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas; but in opening their understanding to the outer world.” In the centuries that followed, other like-minded educational philosophers such as Rousseau, Froebel, and Pestalozzi addressed the issue of the essential intent of education: to fill each child’s mind with facts, concepts, and rules or to create an environment where each child explores, constructs meaning, and actively participates in the learning experience.  The 20th century see-sawed between the two, moving from the progressive philosophies of educators such as Dewey, Freire, and Pratt to the more bureaucratic ideology of using education to drive uniformity of thinking and a strong industrial economy. The 21st-century requirements for life and career are restoring and expanding the tenets of progressive education.  Innovation, research, communication, integration of disciplines, collaboration, and technical savvy all rank higher than fitting in and passively acquiring data. These depend on higher order critical and creative thinking skills.  
A Balanced Approach for the 21st Century
In fact, today’s education goals require a balance of teacher- and student-centered learning — with each role doing its part. According to ISTE’s standards for educators, a teacher now must integrate the roles of Learner, Leader, Citizen, Collaborator, Designer, Facilitator, and Analyst. And its standards for students require integration of the roles of Empowered Learner, Digital Citizen, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer, Computational Thinker, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator. In this complex, fast-paced century of disruption, a strong partnership between teacher and student is critical.  In this balanced approach, there is no need to choose between teacher- and student-centered education. For example, Friday’s Class offers a perspective that shows the relationship between the two approaches: “… higher-order skills are more important than the basic skills, but these higher-order skills cannot be achieved without the former. More advanced learning builds on basic learning, and one cannot reverse the order.” A  balanced approach allows the teacher to act as a facilitator to guide students to acquisition and development of basic skills and it allows students to choose to learn these through a variety of modalities, constructing a hierarchy of skills and strategies that support higher order thinking.  References EduGAINS. Professional Learning Guide: Teacher-Directed Instruction. Retrieved at http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesMath/CE/ClassroomPractices/CPRM_ProfessionalLearningGuides/TeacherDirectedInstruction.pdf Friday’s Class. Pro’s & Con’s [of Student Centered Learning]. Retrieved at: https://fridaysclass.weebly.com/pros–cons.html ISTE Standards for Educators. Retrieved at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students Kaput, Krista. (2018). Evidence for Student-Centered Learning. Retrieved at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED581111.pdf Wabisabi Learning. (2018). How to Move Your Classroom toward Student-Centered Learning. Retrieved at:https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/student-centered-learning Friday’s Class. Pro’s & Con’s [of Student Centered Learning]. Retrieved at: https://fridaysclass.weebly.com/pros–cons.html Room 241 blog. (2012, updated 2017) Which is Best? Teacher-Centered or Student-Centered Education? Retrieved at: https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/which-is-best-teacher-centered-or-student-centered-education/

Kimberly Hulbert

Kimberly is a seasoned business development professional with expertise in the K-12 educational technology sector, with experience in both large corporate and smaller start-up settings.