“Simple” because truly student-centered learning, as the phrase suggests, begins and ends with the student. It lets the student lead. This is non-negotiable, since only the learner can do the learning.
However, it is also “complex.” Because this simple goal turns out to be deceptively elusive in the classroom. For one thing, educators must daily solve the puzzle of how to invite student-driven learning without delivering it for them. Since “delivering” an educational experience, rather than merely facilitating or nurturing one, can be a temptation for educators. This may be especially true for the most talented and well-intended teachers, even if delivering student-centered learning is ultimately an oxymoron.
Educators must also wrestle with the question of how to guide students on their paths – since every lifelong learner still benefits from the expertise, wisdom and nurturing of mentors to help them reach their goals – whether they be academic or non-academic objectives. But how can a single educator make accessible the dizzying array of ever-evolving best practices in 21st-century learning and teaching? How can one teacher, for example, integrate all of the current research on cognitive science and social-emotional wellbeing into his or her classroom? Or make available all of the advances in educational technology, global awareness and design-thinking principles for classroom space and time? And these are just a few of the quickly-growing bodies of knowledge which promise to re-shape what education can be….
Finally, while simultaneously trying to solve these sizable challenges to student-centered learning – which Joel Rose has aptly likened to “building the plane while flying it” – educators must also keep their eyes fixed firmly on that unattainable north star, the Holy Grail of education: our humanity.
It’s no small order. Well-crafted algorithms can help make sense of big and little data, find clues to optimize student learning, and streamline this multi-layered teaching process. It can also make the selection of best practices for differentiated instruction somewhat more manageable and “human-sized.” However, student choice will always remain a critical element in the student-centered-learning equation. In addition, teacher crowd-sourcing of strategies, materials and programs can also go a long way to help curate their human expertise and wisdom in these areas, in ways that predictive learning algorithms alone cannot.