The British Museum

Student-centred learning improves outcomes and engagement

Europe's leading minds in education come together at CanvasCon 2015

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 23, 2015 | Events

student centred learning, pupil engagement, CanvasCon, education technology, event, independent schools

Integrating ‘student-centred learning’ practices into the classroom to improve outcomes and engagement was one of the core themes discussed by leading academics at CanvasCon at the British Museum.

The second annual educational technology conference hosted by Instructure, the creator of learning platform Canvas, was attended by over 150 academics, teachers and technology administrators and included speakers from schools and universities across the UK and Europe.

Jared Stein, VP of research and education at Instructure, and author of the book Essentials for Blended Learning: A Standard-Based Guide, led the discussion on how teachers can transform the way students look at learning - while improving outcomes and increasing engagement - by incorporating ‘student-centred learning’ practices.

Student-centred learning is fundamentally about changing the education sector’s understanding of how teachers and students work together so that, eventually, every student becomes a confident, capable, self-directed learner, able to adapt to the challenges of the modern world. The conference shared methods to enhance teaching, tools to empower students, and strategies to enrich the learning environment and ultimately reach goals.

Academics from Fontys, the largest Dutch university of applied sciences in the Netherlands, discussed how the role of modern day education involves preparing students for jobs they don’t know exist yet, as well as working with tools that haven’t been invented yet – such is the rate of exponential progress seen in technology. In preparing children and young adults to adapt to a world in constant flux, the learning environment has to adapt too.

Fontys shared insights on how to develop ‘personalised learning’ in the classroom in schools and universities as a strategy for leveraging talent, and the importance of education happening in context. Studies by the university showed that when teachers push students in the areas where they are less competent the outcome can be counterintuitive – with only a slight improvement in the area of weakness and, often due to lack of motivation, reduced competency in areas where they were previously strong. Findings show that a more personalised approach to teaching, by pushing talent in the right place for each student, results in students becoming consciously competent and consciously incompetent, leading to more a more consistent learning path, improved engagement and greater outcomes. 

Other sessions included insight from the University of Birmingham on creating digital pathways of students and how technologies around them are helping; insight from Wolsey Hall Oxford on how technology can address inclusion and accessibility of students (covering those with disabilities and undertaking distance learning); and the challenges of making MOOCs student-centric by Derby University.

Jared Stein, VP of research and education at Instructure, said: “Student centred-learning is not a light switch we turn on or off; rather, by changing small things, incorporating different activities, or even talking about learning in new ways, we can help students become autonomous, lifelong learners. 

"The education sector needs to help today's students prepare for tomorrow's workplace. This starts in schools and continues through higher education, using modern technology to create flexible, rich learning environments that are engaging and individualised."

Tips for transforming teaching

1. Make learning active

  • Provide hands-on practice opportunities for each learning objective
  • Use techniques like peer instruction for whole-class participation
  • Scaffold only as much as needed to keep work challenging
  • Have students build habits of retrieving new knowledge, not just reviewing 

2. Make activities more authentic

  • Design mock session or role-play activities based on real-life situations
  • Use (and encourage students to use) real-world resources from the open web
  • Model assessments after actual life or career responsibilities 

3. Develop students’ metacognition

  • Prompt students to self-evaluate what they know and don’t know
  • Teach students to pause for reflection, using journals or shared note-taking
  • Explain how experts approach a problem, including the hidden mental steps
  • Use digital tools that provide easy access for review and self-editing 

4. Foster intrinsic motivation

  • Foster growth mindsets by teaching students that mastery is a path, and everyone can succeed
  • Encourage students to create their own learning goals, and recognise their progress toward these goals
  • Introduce cooperative activities and collaborative projects that create a shared purpose

5. Increase students’ responsibility

  • Have students create their own learning tools, like reminders, task lists, and flash cards
  • Move from specific problem-based activities to open-minded, inquiry based activities
  • Design projects that require student planning, milestones, and self-assessment
  • Shift more decision-making to students’ control on projects, resources, or even class policies

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