Student-Centered Learning: How EdTech is Impacting the Instructional Process
Of all the ingredients that go into creating a successful classroom, student engagement and achievement are the most important. Unfortunately, student engagement isn't a given. In fact, a 2015 Gallup poll shows that almost half of middle and high school students felt disengaged in school, and the numbers tend to get worse as students age.
Click here to learn the basics of differentiation, individualization, and personalization and what they look like in practice.
Educators are tuned into this problem and often cite it as their primary concern when it comes to their work. Fortunately, modern EdTech tools show a great deal of promise when it comes to getting students more engaged in the learning process.
There are many benefits to adding edtech to the classroom on a regular basis rather than as a special event. It allows for learning to continue seamlessly at home, breaking down the traditional walls of the school building and making education an anytime, anywhere proposition. The true benefits of edtech, however, derive more from the thoughtful application of technology rather than how often it’s used in the learning process.
In that regard, some of the most exciting developments in edtech have to do with helping instructors create student-centered learning experiences that encourage higher-order thinking skills, soft skills, and meet students where they are.
The Rise of Student-Centered Learning
Just as scientific advancement deepened our understanding of how brains develop, it inspired new theories about learning, engagement, and student achievement. Educators started to recognize that instructional strategies had to be based on student needs, both collective and individual, to be effective.
And while this concept has roots as early as the 1950s, a core strategy in the student-centered learning revolution, called Differentiated Instruction, was popularized by Carol Ann Tomlinson, a veteran educator and author. Put simply, differentiation is the tailoring of the content, process, or product of learning according to individual and group needs. But while the effectiveness of this strategy is proven, its practice in a world where teachers have less time and more responsibility than ever proves to be more complicated.
Fortunately, advancements in edtech make it much easier for instructors to tailor learning experiences to student needs in a number of ways. Whether through the ability to assign different lessons to different groups without students knowing it, pace students individually, or even simply make the time to spend with the students who need it most, edtech is opening doors to student-centered learning right and left.
Below are three student-centered learning strategies that technology has helped make commonplace:
- Differentiated Learning—Adjusting the content of the lessons, the way you teach it, or the type of assessment based on students' readiness and interests. In general, you want all students to get to the same endpoint, but the paths the instructor provides to get there will vary. Online resources offer opportunities to adjust reading levels and delivery of the same information for various learning styles and levels.
- Individualized Learning—Allowing students to work at their own pace as they develop new skills. This is often useful in highly scaffolded subjects like math in which one skill builds on another in a progression of lessons. There are many programs designed to offer practice that increases in complexity as students "level up" in their skills.
- Personalized Learning—Allowing students the freedom to learn in ways that best align with their own interests and passions. This often involves connecting curriculum to real-world activities and encouraging students to design their own learning targets, methods, and activities to show what they know. This is where having access to the world via the internet can allow students to explore their passions and achieve a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the concepts you impart.
Each of these three instructional methods is easier to organize and deliver when students have access to technology to work more independently. All three help to boost engagement and keep students interested in their learning.
Gone are the days when students would meet at the public library to work on a group project for a single afternoon. Today's collaboration makes the learning process part of everyday life, thanks to social media and digital tools. Your students are now able to work together from the comfort of their own homes—and whenever their busy schedules allow.
Tools like Google Docs and Microsoft Word allow students to edit and collaborate on papers and presentations without working face to face. Students who are normally shy in face-to-face collaborations find that being able to gather their thoughts to share online allows them to shine. Online collaboration gives everyone a voice. It also fosters metacognition as students ask each other clarifying questions and work to articulate their ideas for others.
Of course, online collaboration is also convenient. It allows students with jobs or busy schedules to interact on their own time, which levels the playing field for everyone. It also brings opportunities for meaningful interaction to students who may not be able to attend school in person.
And if you use a learning management system (LMS), then online participation is much easier for everyone. All the course members, resources, and messaging are in the same place and available on any mobile device. Teachers are also able to gauge how their students are interacting with the course materials and each other.
Meaningful Student Data
It's not just participation that teachers can track using edtech tools—well-designed software provides a wealth of information about student progress, including the amount of time spent working on problems, their progression through a unit, a snapshot of their mastery of given areas, and areas of strength and weakness. It's a boon for instructors to be able to make informed decisions about what their students need, but the data that EdTech programs provide is even more useful for students themselves.
Giving students the chance to understand their own data allows them to understand their progress and see exactly what they need to work on. This process is a surefire way to boost engagement, as students "own" their learning and can focus their efforts to meet a goal.
The goals themselves become more meaningful, too. Instead of having a vague idea that a C grade means they need to study more, students can see that they need to increase their speed on their multiplication tables to answer correctly in five seconds instead of 15.
While technology alone is never the solution to student engagement, edtech programs offer educators an array of ways to improve student engagement and get kids excited about learning. In particular, student-centered learning, collaboration, and an age-appropriate focus on assessment data are great ways to give your students more "skin in the game" when it comes to taking ownership of their education. With the right progress and tools, you can transform your classroom into a place where all students are ready to dive into the next challenge head-on.