How we learn 2/2: Learner-centrism

How we learn 2/2: Learner-centrism

This article is part 2 of "How we learn" and continues with how people learn best.

In order to create successful learning experiences, we have to challenge our way of thinking, too. This is hard to implement for us teachers, lecturers and facilitators - because it's more about us than our participants.

Have you ever thought "They need to know this!" or "I think I know where they stand."? Well, I certainly more than once. But if we want to create truly successful learning experiences we have to question our own mindset here. I do not want to become the authoritarian who has the answer to everything. I have to give more autonomy to the learner.

Learning takes place when people feel it's relevant for them and they are emotionally involved. Learners shouldn't sit back, they have to do the work. We have to create learning experiences where everybody has their freedom and responsibility to learn new things.

Learning is done by the learner


The following points are, like in part 1, all based on current research. It's about how most of humankind learns best. As you will see, it will all come down to one thing: The learner comes first.

Learners must do the learning

Learning is an activity, so we cannot do that for our participants. A learning experience should contain practices, applications and tasks. Research also shows that a bit of stress is a good thing, people leave their comfort zone and enter the learning zone. Obviously, a lecture or video is not very activating itself, but could be combined with activities.

We step back

We educators step back and let them learn. This is especially hard when people ask for guidance and support and we must avoid to give them answers. Instead, give them hints. Struggling is a good thing, boredom is the enemy of learning. For us this means a new role: Teachers become coaches, lecturers become facilitators of learning.

When it comes to creating learning experiences we have to dedicate time and space for exploration, when participants work in their own pace. With a clear goal and clear guidelines, even the most challenging tasks can be done by beginners.

A project team decides about their next steps


Build emotional connections

When learners build emotional connections, they thrive. You don't just learn tax laws, you take care of your financials and become an independent person. Also, you don't ask a stranger for help: Emotional connections help us to connect to other people (coaches, role models) and learn by interacting with them. For a learning experience this means getting to know our participants, building trustful relationships and thus being able to support them as best as possible. This also helps us to become better Learning Designers.

Power to the learner

Learners has to see their autonomy and responsibility when it comes to reaching their goals. A topic becomes relevant when the learner makes it relevant. This means a learner has to become the captain of his or her own ship. Educators have to adapt to the learners' needs and let them proceed in their own way.

Group discussions are an underestimated way to facilitate learning experiences


Learning together

Research shows that learning in peers or in groups works much better than learning alone. It helps us to share knowledge, reflect and sharpen our opinions. Group discussions are a powerful way to engage with a topic and also grow as a person. Learning experiences should contain many peer-to-peer or group discussions.

All these points come down to one thing: Putting the learner in the center. This learner-centered approach differs from a topic-centered or lecturer-centered approach because it always asks for a successful learning experience. In that way, it not only seeks for the best learning outcome for a specific group of learners, it also helps us educators to learn as much as possible through the interaction with our participants - or just as an observer of how people learn.


Learner-Centered Teaching: Putting the Research on Learning into Practice, Doyle 2012

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, Medina 2014



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