How students learn
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"... what the student does is actually more important in determining what is learned than what the teacher does." Thomas Shuell
The are a number of approaches which aim to optimise how and how much students actually learn from a teaching activity, but one of the most important is to develop student-centered learning strategies, which are based on the foundation of constructivism.
Most modern tertiary institutions actively practice (or claim to practice) program delivery methods which encourage students to take an active role in creating the learning and assessment processes.
Student-centered learning strategies shift the focus of activity from the teacher to the learners, and are particularly relevant to tertiary and professional education, because they foster motivation and incentive to learn. In acting as a facilitator guiding the students, rather than just instructing them, the teacher is allowing the learners take an active part in deciding what they learn, how they learn and how they can evaluate what they have learnt.
Ideally, this means that the learners have more responsibility and ownership of their learning, and are not simply passive ‘vessels’ receiving knowledge from the teacher.
Student-centered strategies emphasise each student’s interests, abilities and learning style. Where these types of strategies have been actively adopted in tertiary programs, the evidence suggests that the students have developed greater skills for independent problem solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking. The approach has also increased their confidence in their knowledge and skills.
The input which the students have in their learning also have implications for assessment – in a student-centred classroom, they will be more involved in deciding how to evaluate and demonstrate their learning.
Putting it into practice
Learning contracts are mutual agreements between teachers and students which state explicitly what a learner will do to achieve specific learning outcomes, and how their learning will be measured and evaluated.
They foster an increased responsibility for their own learning. Contracts can include learning expectations, learning resources, learning experiences, documentation and other information such as designated evaluators, evaluation criteria and timelines.
Azer, S 2013, Making sense of clinical teaching: A hands-on guide to success, Boca Raton, CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
Bradshaw, M & Lowenstein, A 2014, Innovative teaching strategies in nursing and related health professions, Jones and Bartlett Learning.