• Joanne Jacobs

'Student-centered learning' means less learning


Photo: Rodnae/Pexels

Student-centered learning is supposed to be inclusive, democratic, personalized and accessible, write Rebekah Wanic and Nina Powell in Heterodox Academy. But, given "mass higher education," it means students don't learn very much.

Universities have "given up trying to tell students what is good for them, write Wanic and Powell, Americans who ended up teaching psychology at the National University of Singapore. If students are satisfied, that's the measure of success.

Students find exams stressful, so we are told to reduce the number of exams. Neither do students like to read, so we are told to assign easier and shorter readings. Students find it hard to concentrate, so we are told to break down lectures into small chunks and intersperse activities in between. Students enjoy media content and are happy to engage with YouTube and social media, so we are told to incorporate more videos and make course material and assessments more creative and interactive. Some students don’t like to speak in class, so we are told to make sure there are myriad ways students can participate without having to actually speak.

Along with "grade inflation, flexible deadlines, warm language in feedback," these initiatives deny students a chance to learn, Wanic and Powell write. "The student-centered mindset has led to a dumbing-down of curricula and a constant pressure on educators to motivate students, rather than a pressure on students to take ownership of their own success and failure." It leaves them poorly prepared for the future. Telling students to expect others to recognize and resolve their problems is disempowering, they write. It weakens their individual agency and creates "a sense of entitlement" that alienates future employers and colleagues.

It's dishonest to tell students they are equals in the classroom, Wanic and Powell write. "Students need an appreciation and respect for accumulated knowledge . . . Yet many educators now encounter students who feel insulted, offended, or threatened when their ideas are disputed or their essays corrected."


If students already know everything via their "lived experience," why bother to go to university at all?

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