Why Learner Centered Education Is The Key To Meaningful School Improvement

Effective educators have long known that one-size-fits all approaches to teaching and learning are insufficient. Through extraordinary effort, they have figured out ways to differentiate and personalize learning for their students. They have done so despite an industrial-era education paradigm that makes it very difficult to do so. Over time, some of their efforts were named, systematized, and scaled.

Today, building on these approaches, some believe (count us among them) that a shift to an entirely new education paradigm is within reach. Harnessing new technologies, aided by advancements in transportation and communication, and required in order to adequately respond to deep and disruptive social, economic, environmental, and political forces, we envision a fundamental shift in how learners experience their education.

Specifically, we envision moving from a school-centric, industrial-age model akin to factories and assembly lines, to a learner-centric, networked-age model characterized by lateral connections and flexibility. In short, we envision learner-centered education. But what does the movement towards learner-centered education mean for the many methods for designing learning and differentiating support to students developed in recent decades?

In this piece, we identify some of the most-broadly adopted methods developed by educators to differentiate support, improve learning design, and meet the individual needs of learners. They include Response to Intervention (RTI), Positive-Behavior Intervention Systems (PBIS), Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS). Then, we seek to compare learner-centered education to these approaches, exploring the implications for each. Ultimately, we will make the following arguments:

  1. Learner-centered education is about a paradigm shift, not a specific methodology.
  2. Learner-centered education requires learning design that is flexible and adaptive, similar to or expanding upon the principles of UDL.
  3. Learner-centered education may include specific methodologies for differentiating support (e.g. RtI or PBIS), but it is more likely to extend and/or replace them.
  4. Learner-centered education is additive to and inherently strengthens existing systems-level approaches such as MTSS.
  5. Learner-centered education is fundamentally adaptive and outcomes-focused (rather than technical and process-focused).

All of the approaches we name above recognize the same problem. The current industrial model for teaching and learning was designed based on an assembly line metaphor, expecting students to move through school in the same amount of time with more or less the same amount of support regardless of where they enter, unique challenges they may be facing, or strengths they may bring.

Within this rigid system, educators have sought ways to differentiate support. Over time, some of the techniques educators developed to provide each student the support they need have been built upon to create school and systems-level approaches. Tiered systems of support and intervention such as Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) were developed to introduce achievable levels of differentiated support (e.g. 3 tiers) within the constraints of the industrial paradigm.

  • Response to Intervention is a multi-tier approach and framework for instruction that screens all students for learning needs, and then provides progressive levels of intervention to students on an as needed basis. Interventions scale-up in the level of intensity such as supplemental instruction within the large group (typically Tier 1), targeted small group instruction (Tier 2), and individualized, intensive instruction aimed at skill deficits (Tier 3), though tier definitions and strategies differ by school. In practice, RtI models may call for individualized interventions (problem-solving models) or preselected interventions (standard protocol models). The three essential components are tired instruction and intervention, ongoing student assessment, and family involvement. RtI originated from the goal of proactively identifying and providing special education interventions to students before they fall too far behind.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is also a three-tier approach and framework but focused on student behavior and social-emotional development. The goal of PBIS is to proactively promote positive behavior. Similar to RtI, PBIS typically scales interventions starting with universal and proactive routines and support provided to the full classroom or school (Tier 1), then targeted behavior support (Tier 2), and lastly individualized, intensive support (Tier 3).

Recent innovations with tiered systems of support by organizations such as Turnaround for Children expand these models to include an understanding of trauma and adversity as well as taking into account how to adjust for hybrid and remote learning options.

These systems were developed based on a recognition that all students are capable of reaching similar outcomes, but require different amounts of time and support to get there. They were helpful steps towards providing each student with different amounts of time, support, and attention based on their needs. They have positively impacted tens of thousands of students in achieving desired standards however this often comes at the cost of removing students from their peers and narrowing the curriculum and will continue in such a manner as long as the traditional paradigm exists.

At the same time that these methodologies proliferated for differentiating and targeting support by pulling students out, complementary methodologies were developed for designing learning in a way that was flexible enough to meet the needs of learners with different motivations, interests, (dis)abilities, and needs. One example is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is an approach and framework for designing instruction and learning environments that are accessible to all students.

UDL emphasizes providing flexibility in how students access content (e.g., visual, audio, hands-on) engage with it, and demonstrate knowledge or mastery. The goal is to remove barriers to learning. UDL is rooted in the premise that while accommodations and flexibility are necessary to ensure learning accessibility for some individuals, they in fact benefit all individuals (sometimes in unforeseen ways) and therefore should always be in play.

More recently, attempts have been made to create overarching systems that build on and integrate these into an overall coherent framework for systems change. One example that has gained widespread interest and adoption is Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS). MTSS is a framework for meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. It builds upon and may include data-driven, tiered intervention strategies such as RtI and PBIS as part of the approach.

However whereas RtI primarily focuses on academic learning and PBIS focuses on behavior and social/emotional development, MTSS aims to bring a more comprehensive lens and integrated approach to meeting the needs of learners. Moreover, MTSS is often described as a system-level approach with implications for aligned leadership, resource allocation, professional development and more.

This now brings us to the term that is at the center of our inquiry: learner-centered education. Like MTSS, learner-centered education has been growing in popularity. Learner-centered attempts to define an alternative to the industrial-era education model itself. The graphic below, borrowed from Education Reimagined, makes this clear.

Learner-centered education is about a paradigm shift, not a specific intervention methodology. It pushes education leaders to critically consider the purpose of school and to re-envision how the complete education ecosystem prepares students for the future. Learner-centered education demands that we move away from the traditional industrial model towards a transformative one that designs learning in response to the diverse needs of students.

This future-oriented paradigm requires a new set of student outcomes and aligned success metrics as part of its vision, whereas most of the above can function within the traditional set of outcome metrics. Lastly, learner-centered education goes beyond schools as the unit of change. Instead, it looks at the needs and goals of the individual learner and macroscopically at opportunities for learning within an education ecosystem.

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Source: Why Learner-Centered Education is the Key to Meaningful School Improvement | Getting Smart

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Using Text To Speech Technology To Assist Dyslexic Students

Davis Graham wanted to participate. His teachers could not understand why he was so resistant to learning. He almost completely gave up on his education. Mr. Graham, a life-long dyslexia advocate, has dyslexia and he was not alone. Eighty percent of children who have a learning disability are also impacted by dyslexia. This is a staggering number of students.

With technology we can tackle some of the challenges facing these students. Even changing how we view these differences.

I asked a friend of mine, Tony Wright, who has two children with dyslexia, what he would change in the world of education. He said we need a change in perception because, “In a perfect world, my children’s learning differences would be accepted as differences, not disabilities. Their peers would understand that they think differently. That they are not inferior. Also, they would be able to be accommodated without disruption to their day. Of course, they have a father who loves reading. I want my kids to enjoy reading. In a perfect world, my kids would be just able to be normal kids and given the chance to excel and succeed in whatever their talent is. I think that’s what most parents want as well.”

With increased early screening we could identify more children who struggle with dyslexia. Early screening could provide a pathway to learning with Text to Speech technology (TTS) and could even lead to a decrease in our total IEP costs. TTS in schools creates an excellent opportunity for a huge impact in schools with very limited budgets.

With regard to how we view reading and writing in education, Mr. Graham points out, “It’s a crossroads. [We should] say look, you can dictate it with speech to text or you can consume it by text to speech or the reading acceleration program.”

The point is the challenges caused by dyslexia in reading and writing can be alleviated. Cost savings for IEPs would be realized in both the short and long-term. Providing students access to TTS technology is the most efficient solution in solving reading challenges that dyslexic students face. In the long-run, districts will see improved comprehension and less frustrating outbursts from students. Very often we see a decrease in the need for assistance from teachers and better test scores often follow. All of these elements combined lead to a positive net impact on students, teachers and schools with limited budgets.

“In the Education delivery system, text to speech will level the hurdles of the printed word in any language, providing a level playing field for all students,” says Mr. Graham.

Despite being severely dyslexic, Mr. Graham went on to receive his Master of Science in Health and Medical Informatics from Brandeis University. When he was diagnosed with dyslexia in the late 60’s, his road to achieving educational success was a long, winding path. With support from many educators along the way, he became passionate about providing access to various content for those who also suffer with dyslexia. Mr. Graham found Bookshare, an ebook library, and began listening to volumes of books converted from a written format to an audio format. This is a life changing experience for someone willing to learn, but who lacks the ability to just sit down and read. Enter the mobile age and the explosion of access to content for those with dyslexia, and we begin to see innovative solutions in solving learning disabilities.

Along with internet access and either a mobile device or tablet, any student with dyslexia can access TTS technology. TTS is not new, but it is dramatically improved over the years.

The increase in processing speed and decrease in costs over time, has allowed for dramatic improvements to TTS technology. Now with programs like Dragon Dictate or Google’s Dictation.io, students can speak into a microphone, or use a dictation feature to “write” papers or take tests.

The problem goes beyond just improving grades

Research by Jean Cheng Gorman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who studied youth suicides in 1998, found a staggering 50% of students who unfortunately end their lives have a learning disability, and 40% suffer from dyslexia. There is yet to be a research study showing TTS technology having a causal impact on decreasing suicide. However, helping alleviate barriers to knowledge, while decreasing frustration with learning, will have a positive impact on all student’s lives.

Beyond cost savings, the significance in learning to each student is tremendous. As a child, I personally was slow to read, but I don’t remember when I suddenly “learned” how to read. The act of reading is so automatic for most people, that it is hard for most people to imagine what it would be like to lack the ability to read. Providing solutions to these problems can help make some students feel empowered to learn again. TTS can change the lives of those students who need help with managing dyslexia.

 

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Constructivism And Behaviorism In Designing Online Learning Programs – Theodosis Karageorgakis

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Behaviorism

The basic principle of Behaviorism is that learning is the result of a person’s response to a stimulus. The student does not work independently on the environment but on the contrary, the behavior is controlled by environmental factors, thus not having the control of the learning or the time it takes to achieve it (Technology in Education, n.d).

All the objectives are predetermined, while the student is tasked with absorbing the offered knowledge so that in the final stage it may present desired and predetermined behaviors. The student is individually assessed and controlled if his behaviors and performances can state that he has acquired the new knowledge according to the criteria the teacher has set the right response (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).

Thus, the teacher is at the center of learning, trying to find ways to elicit the desired behaviors by providing the appropriate stimuli without taking into account the social-cultural context of the learners as well as their needs, ultimately failing to contribute to the acquisition of a higher level of competence or those skills that require deeper processing (Technology in Education, nd; Kostaditidis, 2005).

Constructivism

On the other side, another predominant learning theory is constructivism, which asserts that learning is an active procedure as students enter the process of building knowledge by trying to clarify the events of the world environment (Technology in Education, n.d.).

Constructivists believe that learning only happens when there is active processing of information and so they ask students to create their own motifs by linking new knowledge to those motives. As a result, this enables them to constantly undergo the cultivation of their post-cognitive skills (Technology in Education, nd; Kostaditidis, 2005).

Constructivists do not share the stance of behaviorists who claim that knowledge is independent of the mind and believe that the mind is the internal representation of the outside world. This way they believe that students are forced to construct their own knowledge through personal experiences and real events (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).

Actions in the constructivist model enhance the ability to solve the problems of those involved and the ability to conduct research and work within a group. At the same time, the educator plays the role of the assistant-supporter of the learning process and his students, encouraging them to formulate their own ideas and conclusions (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).

Which One Is Better To Use When Designing eLearning Courses?

The creation and the need to adopt a technological approach to the internet learning stems from the theory of constructivism. In an article by Vrasidas, Zebbys, and Petros, Vygotsky’s theories of self-regulating and reflective knowledge express the inseparably linked nature of those theories with new approaches in the field of education (Vrasidas, Zebbys & Petros, 2005).

 As a result, teaching is driven to its peak, as the teacher is now invited to combine both pedagogical approaches and technological applications and new teaching approaches, effectively designing an authentic learning environment where the learners will benefit the most. (Erben, Ban & Casta ~ neda, 2009; Medina & Alvarez, 2014).

Unfortunately, most applications and tools that are available neglect the need for cooperation between the participants focusing solely on individuality. It is crucial for eLearning designers to add meaningful activities that promote communication and teamwork. This is a win-win solution since at the same time the intrinsic motivation of users is increased because of the interest in those activities.

Despite their differences, these 2 learning theories are well suited to the design of online learning today. Although the various technological tools are primarily designed in the context of behaviorist theories, most teachers choose to use a combination of behavioral and constructionist design patterns, perceiving the dynamics of both theories in order to satisfy the educational peculiarities of each student (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).

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