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DR. IRENA MARINKO: STUDENT-CENTRED APPROACH IN HIGHER EDUCATION

natisni E-pošta

irena3

Abstract

The paper presents a survey of the contemporary literature on student-centred learning in higher education.

A number of relevant scholars emphasized active learning, new ways of assessment, coaching teachers, etc.already in the previous century. The contemporary researchers discover new possibilities how to introduce the student-centred learning in all areas of education: the curriculum, learning environment, learning process, learning resources, teaching methods, time dimension, assessment, etc. It seems that student-centred learning can be used in the most different areas of higher education from medicine, business to military studies. Student-centred learning is getting popular not only in Western countries but also in Asia although some researchers claimed that this approach is not familiar to the Asian cultures. The paper shows that student-centred learning has a number of positive sides but there is also some criticism.

Key words: student-centred learning, higher education, literature survey

1 Constructivism as framework for the student-centred learning

The student-centred learning is based on the cognitive paradigm and/or constructivism. Cognitivism puts emphasis on mental processes and regards human development in terms of progressive stages of cognitive development. Constructivists believe that all humans have the ability to construct knowledge in their own minds through a process of discovery and problem-solving. Typical for constructivist teaching is students' active participation in class where they construct knowledge by themselves. Thus the focus shifts from teacher-centred to student-centred learning. Within constructivist teaching students are faced with problems which are relevant to them; concepts are structured from whole to part, students' points of view are valued and student learning in context is assessed with authentic tasks (Brooks and Brooks, 1993 in Yuen and Hau, 2006).

Struyven et al. (2010) point out that the constructivist theories of learning brought about a number of new teaching methods in education. Lectures were minimized, and active teaching methods were introduced like problem-based assignments, learning contracts, case-related tasks, and collaborative paper assignments. Struyven emphasizes three characteristics as essential for student-centred approach:
1) Learning by discovery in groups or individually
2) Authentic assignments
3) Being supported by a coaching teacher.

Yuen and Hau (2006, 288) claim that the constructivist teaching proved more successful than the teacher-centred teaching. The results showed that students acquired and retained more knowledge. The constructivist teaching enabled students more time to construct knowledge by team work. The constructivist knowledge also enabled creative knowledge construction, activated prior knowledge and was more appealing than teacher-centred learning. However, it is possible to find also opinions that constructivist teaching usually does not cover all the topics and teachers worry that students would learn less.

2 Characteristics of the contemporary student-centred learning

A number of relevant scholars like Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, Ferriere, Rousseau, Freinet, Gardner, Rodari, Ciari, Maria Montessori and others reported on the benefits of experiential, hands-on, student-centered learning (Çubukçu, 2012, 50) for many years. Zhu and Engels (2013) claim that student-centred learning is the most important innovation in higher education which can be placed beside the communication technologies and the use of collaborative learning approaches. Student-centred learning is most typical in organizations that emphasize diversity, collaboration and teamwork.

The main characteristics of the student-centred approach are individual learners' experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, interests, capacities and needs (Harkema and Schout, 2008). Within this approach teachers mainly focus upon what students should learn and emphasize why (Bransford, Vye & Bateman, 2002), they take into account the existing knowledge of students (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 2000; Protheroe, 2007), provide different opportunities for students to learn, often change teaching methods, help students who have troubles and consider their background. Teachers discuss with students which study activities lead to good results, expose students to looking for alternatives and trying to find their own solutions. Examination questions refer to real situation and do not lead to categorizing students with regard to their marks. The basic conditions for an effective learning situation are (Mc Combs et al., 1997) the learning environment in which learners feel safe and accepted, numerous opportunities for students to confront new information and experiences, personal discovery of new understandings, all adapted to the individual students and their pace of learning.

Harden and Laidlaw (2013) emphasize that teachers should provide feedback to the student, engage the student in active learning, individualise the learning to the personal needs of the student and make the learning relevant. Hattie and Timperley (2007 in Harden and Laidlaw) speak about giving the students constructive and enough specific feedback, an explanation, the language should be non-evaluative, given in time and frequently, feedback should help learners to plan further studies. Harden and Laidlaw state that students have individual needs regarding personal capabilities, motivation and what drives their learning, earning goals and career aspirations, mastery of the course learning outcomes on entry to the course, learning styles, the place of learning – on campus or at a distance - and the time of learning. Individualisation can be achieved in many ways: the teaching programme may be arranged so that students can choose to attend a lecture on a subject, view a podcast of the lecture, engage in collaborative problem-based learning with their peers or work independently using an online learning programme. Learning resources or learning opportunities can be adapted or prepared so that the students' learning experience, as they work through the programme, is personalised to their individual needs. The time allotted for an individual student is not fixed but adapted to the students' needs. Also the curriculum can be designed so that it helps individual requirements of students: by including experiences in the early year of the course, by problem-based approach, by the use of virtual problems related to the subject, by communicating with the students about how their learning experiences will contribute to their learning outcomes, etc. (Harden and Laidlaw, 2013, 31).

Also Mclean and Gibbs (2010) claim that students should be included at all levels of curriculum design, implementation and evaluation. The schools should support student diversity and individual learning needs, the psychological and social aspects of student diversity, develop students' self-learning skills, allow time for independent learning and pursing areas of interest, regularly review the core curriculum content, recognise that their education continues beyond graduation, and not pay lip service to learner-centredness.

Çubukçu lists the following characteristics of the student-centred teaching program (Unver & Demirel, 2004 in Çubukçu, 2012): emphasizing tasks that attract students' interests, organizing contents and activities around the subjects that are meaningful to the students, determining clear opportunities that let all students develop their own learning, skills and progress to the next level of learning, organizing activities that help students, understand and improve their own viewpoints, developing global, interdisciplinary, and complementary activities, supporting challenging learning activities even if the learners find them difficult, and emphasizing activities that encourage students to cooperate with other students. In student-centered learning environments, it is essential that students take responsibility for learning, that they are directly involved in the discovery of knowledge, the study materials should offer students a chance to activate their background knowledge, the activities done are based on problem solving. Various institutions and outside-class activities are incorporated to support students' learning (Cubukcu, 2012, 53). The time dimension should be evaluated in psychological terms. It is important that the students have enough time to construct the information cognitively and connect the new knowledge and real life. The students should have enough time for communication, for learning, synthesizing, observing and applying new knowledge to social life, work, family and society. The place of student-centred learning means all the places where students learn: school, library, museums, work place and home.

Lemos, Sandars, Alves and Costa (2014) investigated a new mixed-methods approach to evaluate the student centredness of teaching and learning. The research results showed that especially the following innovations were appreciated: teachers mentioned the importance of engaging students in the learning process, the class was a place for discussion, students were frequently given autonomy in class, there was a change in power relationships between teachers and students. Teachers used content to capture student curiosity and increase motivation. Teachers considered themselves more as facilitators, they gave students high responsibility in classroom activities, and provided instant feedback. Course objectives and assessment programme remained under teacher control.

According to the European Students' Union (Student-centred learning, 2010) the student-centred learning is actually a synonym for quality higher education. Students are consulted on curriculum content, on the teaching and evaluation methods used, involved in periodic programme quality reviews, they are full and equal members in committees, there are procedures for students to appeal decisions regarding their academic attainment or progression. Student needs and the diversity of the relevant student groups are considered when designing learning outcomes, students are informed on the intended learning outcomes before they start a course or programme component. Prior non-formal learning is recognised, the process of recognition is easy, and recognition of prior learning can be done without significant costs of bureaucracy. There are special support measures that help students from disadvantaged backgrounds; students can combine work/family – life and studies. Group-work is used in the learning process, the goals of the learning process are agreed upon between teachers and students. The assessment includes peer- and self-assessment, projects, simulations of tasks, real life situations etc. Students have access to appropriate research and study facilities both on and off campus. The institution contributes to promoting a national/regional culture of student – centred learning. The school provides training on the use of innovative teaching methods and student-centred curriculum development. Practical implementation of the student-centred approach includes problem-based learning, group project work, student-centred active learning, resource-based learning, use of the case method, role plays, classroom workshops, group presentations, use of the web-conferencing, particularly in distance education, small group work, that enables students to learn how to work in a team, making self-assessment comments, making peer-assessment feedback comments, suggesting self-assessment grades, and negotiating self-assessment grades.

The European Students' Union seems to have the most elaborate and concrete list of what is student-centred learning. They emphasize the feedback to students, students' rights to decide about the curriculum, teaching and evaluation methods, rights to decide in the committees on the quality of their institution, about credits, recognition of prior learning they stress group-work, projects, different forms of assessment, simulation, research, IT, collaboration of librarians with teachers, innovative teaching methods and list a large number of practical implementation of the student-centred approach.

Student-centred learning is nowadays developed in a number of study programmes (very often in different areas of medicine and business) and in different parts of the world.

Milanese, Gordon, and Pellatt (2013) discuss the learning situations in the field of clinical education (physiotherapy) and give examples of student-centred learning like: the student demonstrates patient treatment and the educator facilitates the process, the student observes another student during clinical practice, the educator facilitates reflection after a demonstration, the student completes a patient documentation form, routine evaluation/treatment of the patient by the student (patient-centred activities); the educator does a one to one tutorial with the student, the student participates in small group discussion on patient management, the student is tutored by a fellow student, the student presents a case study to fellow students and staff (discussion); the educator gives verbal/written feedback about clinical practice, the educator gives immediate feedback, the educator gives feedback on what the student did well/on the student's limitations/on the student's knowledge/on the student's skill/on the student's attitude (feedback to the student); the student assesses him/herself on patient management, the student is assessed by other students on patient management, the student is assessed by the patient regarding patient care, the educator assesses the student using a mock test situation, the educator assesses the student at the end of the clinical placement (student assessment) and other learning activities like the student does role-play during clinical placement, the educator and student plan learning activities for clinical placement together, the student draws up a SWOT analysis on his/her learning abilities, the student does self reflection on clinical abilities, the student writes a report on patient management, the student makes a poster, evaluates an outcome measure, writes a case report on patient management, participates in a journal club, writes a report on evidence based physiotherapy, on the value of patient statistics, completes a clinical folder for assessment. The study found out that the most valuable activities of students were individual patient-centred learning activities with adequate discussion and immediate feedback which informed students about their limitations, skills, knowledge and attitude.

Rizescu, Rizescu and Balcescu suggest that the contemporary military higher education should be based on quality assurance, curricular compatibility, competences and conformity with the European labour market, optimal study conditions, materials, modern methods and equipment, student-centred systems, career counselling, student mobility etc. (Rizescu et al., 2009). The student-centred learning is one of the most important trends of didactic activities in academic environments. The student-centred learning means paying special attention to the learning process, to student counselling and to changing the student into an active partner of the education process. To introduce the student-centred approach universities and colleges should encourage the students, the teachers and the institution as a whole. Teachers in the student-centred learning put emphasis on encouraging students' independent thinking, working on projects, solving practical problems, cooperating in research activities, learning new research methods, stimulating students' imagination, creativity and originality and on eliminating the lack of motivation. For student-centred learning it is characteristic that students are taught how to plan their learning, to interact with teachers, participate in research and assessment. The teachers' guiding and monitoring is based on selection of materials and resources for study according to the students' interests and capabilities.

The opinions about the global applicability of the student-centred learning and/or especially problem-based learning are different. Some authors stress that student-centred learning is a product of Western countries and that especially Asian teachers and students have difficulties to accept and develop it.

According to Pham and Renshaw (2013) a number of Asian teachers showed reluctance to empower students and/or practice student-centred learning therefore they prepared a workshop on some basic skills to implement student-centred activities: forming small groups (size and composition), setting tasks and expectations for student behaviours, clarifying individual and group responsibilities, monitoring both the process and outcomes of the group experience and how the teachers should perform their roles in student-centred learning classes.

Frambach, Driessen, Chan, van der Vleuten (2012) made investigation of the cross-cultural applicability of problem based learning. Their research found out that cultural factors can be a challenge to the application of problem based learning in non-Western settings, however, it appears that problem-based learning can be applied in different cultural contexts.

The study of Jocz, Zhai and Tan (2014) investigated if inquiry activities contribute to students' interest in science in the Singaporean context. Questionnaires and focus group interviews showed high interest in science class but under the condition that the activities enabled the possibility of applications of science and peer discussion (Jocz, 2014, 2597).

Manisha et al. claim that not many medical colleges in India have incorporated problem-based learning as one of the teaching methods. This could be because of a lack of awareness regarding problem-based learning or negative perceptions about the role of a teacher in problem-based learning (Manisha, 2012, 111-114). However, in comparison with the traditional lecture method (Manisha, Aniruddha, Bajaj, 2012) the majority of the students said that project-based learning increased their motivation to participate in class, to attend class and to do well in the course respectively, that project –based learning enhanced their communication skills and their retention of course content. In problem-based covered topics, 68.75% students scored above 75% while in traditional lecture covered topics, 44.79% students scored 75%. Average attendance in problem based learning session was 89.79% while in traditional lecture method it was 78.95%. These numbers show that problem-based learning is more effective method of learning.

These investigations show that student-centred learning is appropriate also in other cultural environments and not just in Western countries.

3 Pros and cons of the student-centred learning

The student-centred learning should be promoted for several reasons. Some scholars claim that it encourages deep learning and academic engagement and some say that student-centred learning supports transforming of students and teachers.

A number of studies (Lonka & Ahola, 1995; Hall & Sanders, 1997; Cannon & Newble, 2000; Honkimaki et al., 2004 in Hockings, 2009) have shown that student-centred learning encourages deep learning and academic engagement. Several authors claim that student-centred approach stimulates students to adopt a deep approach to learning which is influenced by constructivism. A deep approach to learning is associated with with searching for meaning in the task and the integration of task aspects into a whole (Beausaert et al., 2013, 2).

Blackie, Case and Jawitz (2010) claim that student-centred learning means a link between transforming students and teachers. Student-centred teaching is not just a different style of teaching. This approach requires that the teachers really understand and pay attention to the students and their learning (Blackie et al., 2010, 638), that teachers use Rogers' optimistic view of the potential of any human being, to tend towards psychological health and maturity, that teachers should have congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy and thus help to develop a deeply human relationship between student and teacher. This is similar to Barnett (2008, 170 in Blackie et al., 2010) that the process of higher education should be more than increasing skills and knowledge. There should be fundamental growth in the person of the student. Even further it is developed by Sarah Mann (2008, 141 in Blackie et al., 2010) who speaks about caring as a way of viewing the student: the student is a valued human person. Therefore the teachers should treat the students with respect, contribute to helping the students to find their own way of higher education. Mann, however, does not develop the idea about what a university could do to encourage the teachers to support this ideal. The authors suggest an academic staff development programme that will introduce the idea of student-centredness in higher education. The academics should increase to value both themselves as students, to believe that it is possible to change both academics and students (Blackie et al., 2010, 645).

On the other side there are studies (Herington, Weaven, 2008) that explored how more student-centred teaching methods encouraged deeper student learning and self-regulated learning behaviours. They found out that the project motivated the students' participation in the classroom but did not prove any deeper learning style (Herington, 127).

The study of Lea et al. (2003) showed that students were concerned about their teachers overlying on student-centred learning environments at the expense of structure, guidance, and support. The study of Struyven et al. (2006) found out that students even suggested to combine student-centred learning environments with lectures in order to provide structured support.

Baeten et al. claim that students regularly encounter difficulties, discomfort, and resistance during the initial transition from a traditional approach (e.g., lectures) to a new, student-centred approach (Choi, Lee, & Kang, 2009; Knight, Fulop, M´arquez-Magana, & Tanner, 2008 in Baeten, 2012). In a new, student-centred learning environment, students may experience feelings of uncertainty about their roles and responsibilities (Choi et al., 2009 in Baeten, 2012). Moreover, they may lack self-directed learning skills in order to be successful in this setting (Hung, 2009 in Baeten, 2012).

Some researchers claim that student-centred learning is ineffective for around 30 % of students (Hockings, 2003; Honkimaki et al., 2004). Hockings has not discovered why this is so and how to help students whose learning remains ineffective inspite of the student-centred approach.

The most frequent problems of teachers using the student-centred approach seem to be students who expect model answers, passive students, lack of motivation for learning, reluctance to engage in discussion and activities.

Perhaps it will be possible to reduce the percent of the students for whom student-centred learning is ineffective by professional training of the teachers. Kember (2009) says that many university teachers consider that they are experts who should provide content-oriented teaching therefore they do not like to change their lectures in active student engagement. Therefore it is necessary to improve the quality of teaching and learning by encouraging teachers for student-centred forms of teaching. He describes (Kember, 2008) an initiative to promote student-centred teaching and learning. The campaign included analysis of good practice of award-winning teachers, promoted wider use of good practice, a teacher training course which encouraged student-centred learning, projects that supported student-centred learning, a student survey that identified areas for improvement and development of a model of teaching and learning environment.

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