A learning-centered college focuses on "learning first" for students throughout their college experience, according to the League for Innovation, an international organization focusing upon community colleges. While we assume that all colleges place learning first, this concept can create fundamental change within an institution. With a learning-centered approach, faculty members become facilitators who engage students in learning. The expansion of technology, faculty and staff development, and assessment of learning outcomes also characterize this approach.
At the community college level, the learning-centered initiative began in the 1990s. As a recipient of a major grant in 2000, the League for Innovation implemented the Learning College Project. It chose 12 community colleges for their exemplary practices and supported their development for five years. By example and through training, these colleges focused on stimulating the growth of other learning-centered colleges in the United States and Canada.
Shift to Learning
In the past, most colleges have focused on the instructional paradigm, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Most of us recall traditional classrooms where faculty primarily lectured to impart information. Rather than focusing upon how well an instructor delivers knowledge, the new learning paradigm encourages instructors to become facilitators, designing rich learning environments in which students become active learners. Discussion, community involvement and collaborative projects encourage student engagement.
Expansion of Technology
Colleges use technology to engage student learning. For example, students can participate in group projects, collaborating online in discussion groups that create learning communities. Faculty members assist their students in learning by providing online assessment. Faculty can create new learning options for students--online classes and hybrids that require both online and in-class participation.
Once a college embraces the "learning-centered" philosophy, every area of the college can collaborate in the process. Advisors help students learn to become self-sufficient in registering for classes and planning life goals. The college encourages service-learning experiences, allowing students to make connections between classroom learning and their environment. Human resource personnel focus on the recruitment of staff and faculty who share learning-centered goals.
With learning as the ultimate goal, the assessment of learning outcomes becomes a top priority, according to the League for Innovation. Faculty create stimulating games and other ungraded assessments that provide valuable feedback prior to formal testing. When faculty members use the assessment tools, they can compare formal testing results and analyze practices that work. Many learning-centered institutions experiment with alternate methods of assessment, such as portfolios of students' writing or projects.
With dual degrees in English and learning disabilities, Peg Ehlen has been a full-time English professor most of her life. In addition, she has directed disability services for post-secondary students. Her publications reflect her experience in these fields and her knowledge of psychology, parenting and juvenile diabetes.