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Aurora Institute

What Are the Implications of Student-Centered Learning for Technology?

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Liz Glowa

Issues: Issues in Practice


Most existing IT systems used in schools were implemented to support a teacher and course-centric approach, as well as compliance reporting for basic student data, course-taking, grades and scheduling data in a time-based system. Today many schools and districts are interested in systems to support student-centered, competency-based education and anytime, anywhere learning. This poses particular challenges as schools and districts shift to student-centered learning. A student-centered learning integrated system must support the complicated set of processes that make up personalized, student-owned, collaborative, anytime, anywhere learning and competency-based education. This requires a different set of “functional requirements” mapped to the different components of a student-centered learning model. It requires breaking down what each end user segment needs to be able to do and identifying how technologies can support that functional need.

User Scenarios

To better understand what student-centered learning would require of an integrated information ecosystem, this paper looks at scenarios that describe what students, teachers, parents and educators may need to be able to do as part of their educational system. The scenarios include 3 student examples as well as scenarios for teachers, school leaders, and district level staff. These are described in detail on pages 10-13 of the report and highlighted below.

Student Scenarios

  • In the elementary example of personalized learning, student ownership, two students decided that they wanted to demonstrate their mastery of selected science and written language standards by developing an eBook about butterflies. The scenario describes what they and their teachers did as part of the project and what the teachers did to use this project as one measure of assessing the students’ progress on their content and Habits of Mind competencies.
  • In the secondary competency-based learning and extended learning options scenario, a student who has been fascinated by government, politics and programs for young children all of her life is participating in an internship with the local city government office focused on early childhood initiatives. She works with her learning team to identify quarterly goals in her personalized learning plan for this internship; she then sets weekly targets for making and demonstrating progress toward these goals. She is using this internship to demonstrate growth in her government and Habits of Mind competencies. The scenario describes how this process is working for her and her learning team.
  • In the secondary anytime, anywhere and community involvement scenario, an 18-year-old who missed a year of school due to family health and personal issues wanted to graduate within a year but had the equivalent of two years of credits to complete if following a traditional school approach and calendar. He worked with his Youth Development Counselor (advisor) to review his personal data dashboard, considered his progress, goals, interests and ways in which he likes to learn and demonstrate learning, and co-developed a personalized learning plan (PLP) that included an extended school day and year, a competency approach to obtaining the required credits and a career-oriented capstone project. The YDC also worked with him to identify career related internships and potential colleges, sources of funding and scholarship opportunities online. More details regarding the processes for this as re included in the scenario.

These three student scenarios provide readers with different views of how student-centered learning might be used to meet the needs and interests of learners. The educator scenarios describe what teachers, school leaders, and district staff might want to do to enable student-centered learning and meet the needs of their professional roles.

At the core of each of the scenarios is the focus on student learning, alignment of competencies/ standards to content, assessments and reporting plus the use of evidence-based approaches and data regarding the student’s progress to inform the student’s learning, as well as to inform educator and district practices. Timely, meaningful data and the ability to act upon that data are essential to enabling students and educators to make informed judgments about what students have learned, how well they’ve learned it, what to learn next and effective strategies and resources. This requires a transformation of the traditional teacher-centric instructional cycle to a student-centric cycle.

A number of things differentiate a student-centered instructional cycle from a traditional instructional cycle.

  1. The student is the center of learning, supported by a learning team of partners that include teachers, peers, parents, and others involved in the student’s education and well-being.
  2. Learning is co-planned by the student and teacher and may involve others in the planning. During the co- planning process, the student, teacher and others involved in the planning process use data, including data in the Student Learning Profile, to review what the student knows and needs to know, as well as what the student wants to learn beyond the required outcomes. The team discusses the resulting personalized goals, competencies, and learning targets, ways the student learns best, and the student’s interests. The team uses this information to determine how the student will demonstrate his/her learning. The locus of control for learning is shared between the student and teachers and it progressively moves more toward the student as he or she increasingly takes ownership and responsibility for his or her own learning.
  3. Learning is based on the individual student’s goals plus progress on mastery of clearly defined competencies, needs and strengths, interests and motivations. From this co-planning process, the team develops a personalized learning plan (PLP) that includes goals, competencies, learning targets, instructional approaches and selected ways to demonstrate learning. After developing the PLP, the learning team selects the resources (digital and human) that will be incorporated into the PLP or a playlist-type function.
  4. The learning cycle includes ongoing feedback based on multiple measures of student progression toward attaining clearly defined learning targets and competencies.
  5. The learning cycle is continuous. If a student does not demonstrate mastery, the learning team analyzes the data and revises the selection and use of instructional approaches, ways to demonstrate learning, selection and assignment of resources (digital and human), feedback strategies and intervals during learning—and perhaps the assessment measures and strategies, too. If a student does demonstrate mastery, the student and teacher may decide that the student will move on or explore the concepts related to the competency in more depth.

The central elements described here form a logical relationship for student learning, as represented in the figure below. This instructional cycle for student-centered learning serves as the foundation for understanding the information systems needed to support these processes.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 12.50.51 PM
Figure: Instructional Cycle for Student-Centered Learning

Using the tenets of and the instructional cycle for student-centered learning, the paper goes on to explore some of the primary uses of technology for supporting students and teachers in the tables on pages 15- 25. In the paragraphs following the tables, the implications for parents, advisors, mentors/internship supervisors, school leadership, and district leadership are considered (pages 25-30). At the center of all of these descriptions sits the focus on optimizing student learning through a variety of personalized tools, resources, strategies, collaboration and the use of robust data reporting and technology.

Users of a student-centered learning integrated system will have different needs dependent upon the user’s role and the model(s) of student-centered learning being implemented. These needs should be the basis for the design and selection of technology systems within the integrated system.

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