The previous post hints at the applicability of learner-centered education to students’ experiences outside of the classroom. This post develops that idea a bit further.
For many students, the college experience is multifaceted. Students may live in residence halls, join student organizations, work on campus, complete organized service projects, and participate in the myriad of events and activities designed to enrich academic life. Further, students may spend considerable time in these areas relative to the amount of time spent on course-related activities. This reality begs the question: to what extent are other areas of the college experience learner-centered? I would argue in order to realize the full benefits described in Doyle’s text the principles of learner-centered education should be integrated throughout the academic experience—from matriculation to graduation. I recognize the ambition in this statement and ask for the reader’s patience as I toy in the ideal.
While system-level integration may appear inconceivable, integration at a level broader than the classroom should not. Let’s consider a few of the experiences named above for a moment. At first glance, leadership roles in student organizations, working on campus, and participating in community service projects align nicely with several traits of learner-centered activities as defined by Doyle in chapter 3. These traits include:
- having real-world relevance
- providing the opportunity to collaborate
- providing the opportunity to reflect
- creating polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else
- allowing competing solutions and diversity of outcomes
Each of the example activities under examination seems to have real-world relevance—the first trait in Doyle’s list. In addition, each could easily include opportunities to collaborate and reflect. Depending on the context, each could also allow for the creation of valuable products and provide opportunities to manage competing solutions. Of course, program coordinators would have a large role in ensuring that these activities embody these traits—a point to which I will return momentarily.
We can apply this logic more thoroughly to one of the examples to see how these traits might manifest practically. Let’s examine community service. Imagine that a student life department on campus organizes a community service project at a local food bank. This department manages all aspects of the project, from advertising to transportation to work assignments. This activity hardly appears learner-centered. Now imagine the same unit recruits students to organize a community service project for themselves and their peers. In this scenario, the students are responsible for identifying a community need, locating the appropriate service organization to address that need, advertising the service opportunity to other students, arranging for transportation, and making work assignments based on the strengths and interests of group members. In this example, the unit has fully empowered the students to manage the community service project, and, as a result the activity would have greater real-world relevance, require higher levels of collaboration, generate a more diverse set of outcomes, while still providing a valuable product for the community. In addition, at the conclusion of the service project administrators could ask students to reflect on the experience through a written essay, a concept map, a blog, or eportfolio.
The latter example demonstrates how a program coordinator in a student life unit might infuse an experience outside of the classroom with the principles of learner-centered education. Of course, the example assumes the program coordinator maintains the requisite knowledge and skills to organize a service project of this nature, which brings me to an important point. It is paramount that universities and colleges extend the conversation about learner-centered education beyond classroom instructors to the other members of the community who organize learning activities for students. Only in this way can universities and colleges more fully integrate learner-centered education throughout the academic experience.