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What it means to teach, and to be a teacher, has evolved since high technology entered the world of education.

Learning today is markedly different than it was in the pre-Internet days of, say, 1987. Students now have at their fingertips a digital Library of Alexandria, whether they turn to Khan Academy or MOOCs or to Google Books. The tools available, from mobile apps to online courses, help make learning easier.

There’s also been a shift in the classroom. Instructors have embraced experiential learning. Others promote group learning and project work. Some have abandoned lectures.

Students have more options, more ways to learn. Fewer find themselves in traditional classrooms.

Yet some aspects of teaching haven’t been altered. The art of teaching, of making connections with students, of spurring their intellectual development, of helping them engage, remains vital. And irreplaceable.

Our best educators recognize that they’re not only imparting knowledge, but also preparing students for a complex, challenging, and exciting future. The art of teaching in 2017 involves inspiring curiosity, supporting critical thinking, and encouraging a love of learning.

Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge Learning. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, at Babson College, and at Boston University.


Copyright © 2017 MindEdge, Inc.

One foundation of student-centered learning is variety—providing learners with multiple ways to learn.

With the advent of online and blended learning, instructors can present students with a wide range of learning options. These include video (mini-lectures, animations), audio, interactive games, narrative learning (case studies and scenarios), writing to learn exercises, simulations, flash cards, formative and summative assessments, discussion boards, adaptive learning, concept mapping, and in-class group work and discussions.

MindEdge Varied Learning

As we’ve noted in the past, not everyone processes information in the same way. Some learners find video presentations help them master challenging material—others prefer text, some are most comfortable with visual aids.

There are key five benefits to focusing on variety. Students tell us that it:

  • Stimulates their interest.
  • Encourages their participation.
  • Engages them through their preferred way of learning
  • Supports their sense of achievement
  • Allows them to demonstrate their mastery in varied ways

We’ve also noted in the past the importance of planning ahead during the content development process. Instructional designers should consider the sequence and pacing of the learning. They should look for opportunities to introduce new and different learning elements. The pay-off will come in the form of learning that engages, entertains, and informs.


Helpful resources

Elizabeth F. Barkley, Student Engagement Practices: A Handbook for College Faculty, Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Peter Brown, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Belknap Press, 2014.

Gerald F. Hess, “Value of Variety: An Organizing Principle to Enhance Teaching and Learning,” Elon University Law Review, June 10, 2010. (Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1796882)

James M. Lang, Small Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 2016.


Copyright © 2017 MindEdge, Inc.

What are key principles for student-centered learning?

After many years of developing online learning, MindEdge has identified seven principles for improved student outcomes.

They are:

  • Place the student at the center of the learning experience.
  • Leverage existing knowledge and skills.
  • Respect the learner’s time.
  • Employ diagnostic assessments to ascertain gaps in knowledge.
  • Offer varied learning experiences.
  • Provide needed scaffolding and practice for learners.
  • Measure progress and mastery of learning objectives.

Student-centered instruction focuses on supporting and empowering the student in mastering the skills and knowledge in a given field of study. This requires shifting from the traditional “sage on the stage” approach for instructors to one built around coaching and advising. Students who are engaged, learn. Students who are challenged by interesting learning experiences, learn.

student_image

Today’s students often have prior subject knowledge. Whenever possible, educators should capitalize on this foundation, valuing and extending what students bring to the classroom (traditional and virtual).

A well-constructed learning experience lets students know what is expected of them, and focuses assignments and assessments on the learning objectives outlined at the start of the course. Time is precious—avoid the extraneous or off-topic. Let students learn at their own pace.

Assessing prior student knowledge, and identifying gaps, is a valuable exercise for learners and instructors. This can be accomplished through simple diagnostic assessments at the beginning of the learning experience. It helps determine what should be emphasized, and what can be given a more cursory review.

Variety matters: it keeps learners engaged. The jury is still out on whether “learning styles” represents a valid way to categorize how we learn, but offering numerous ways for students to learn—including video, audio, infographics, interactives, assessments, games—appeals to many learners.

Not everyone “gets it” immediately, so it’s important to offer deeper levels of instruction for students who may struggle with new concepts. Whole-Part-Whole learning and adaptive learning are ways to integrate scaffolding and support into instruction.

At every phase of learning, assessing student progress is key. Asking students to demonstrate their mastery of material by synthesizing answers to higher-order questions is one helpful method of measurement.

These principles can be applied in all forms of learning (classroom, blended, online), and can provide a useful framework for developing and designing effective learning experiences.


Copyright © 2016 MindEdge, Inc.

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