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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Why Choose Continuing Education Through All Stages of Life

At certain moments in anyone’s life, it is tempting to think of education as a thing of the past. Maybe you’ve graduated high school, college, or even a master’s or doctorate program. Maybe you’ve found yourself securely in the workforce. Whatever your situation, you can benefit from continuing education.

In every stage of life, a commitment to continuing education brings benefits you may not have considered or thought possible. Whether you are learning a new musical instrument, a second language, or new technical or vocational skills, revitalizing your skills and knowledge will benefit you throughout your life.

After all, the world is constantly changing and progressing — shouldn’t you?

Here, we’ll explore how continuing education can be utilized in every stage of life, from young adulthood, middle age, and even retirement. 

Continuing Education in Young Adulthood Beyond the Classroom

When you’re young, it can be difficult to think of education as anything but an obstacle, a stepping stone for future goals. However, a commitment to lifelong learning can have immense benefits through every stage of your life.

Creating the attitude of a lifelong learner in young adulthood gives you a step up in life, raising your prospects and improving your outcomes. Continuing education as a young adult — from adolescence into adulthood — means going beyond the classroom in various avenues of education.

Continue your education beyond the classroom through learning life skills, expanding your talents and hobbies, and participating in vocational training programs. In the process, you will transcend academic learning and pick up usable skills that will translate across every stage of your life.

1. Life Skills

Life skills are anything and everything that help you maintain a healthy, highly-functioning lifestyle. This can mean the daily living activities that have aided in your development since childhood or skills learned in adulthood, like the process of filing one’s taxes or investing for the future.

Many young adults exiting high school and even college are often astounded by the level of complexity in adult life. They find that little of that complexity is discussed and taught in the classroom. This is where a commitment to lifelong learning can be immediately beneficial in your day-to-day life, and it’s easier than you might think.

There are many options available for learning life skills. From signing up for a community class, enrolling in a course on a digital learning platform, to even watching a series of useful YouTube videos, you can learn a lot about life and how to navigate it.

Online courses that are not affiliated with traditional academia are gaining in popularity. This is a market expected to swell to a $350 billion industry by 2025, boosted by the increased importance of digital learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Platforms like Udemy, Lynda, or Skillshare serve users in thousands of fields to navigate life skills and progress their abilities. You can find anything from generalized soft skills to highly specific topics in the ranks of courses available online.

The availability of learning opportunities in an easily navigable digital marketplace makes continuing education a breeze. Why not give yourself a leg up in life by progressing your learning outside of the classroom?

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2. Talents, Passions, and Hobbies

Learning is easier when the subject is something we are really passionate about. Often, we don’t even think of developing our talents, passions, and hobbies as an educational experience. However, everything from learning an instrument to building model cars has real-world applications that you can carry with you throughout your life.

Take music for example. Listening, playing, and experiencing music can have profound effects on the development of our brains. Studies have shown that when we accompany our lives with music, cognitive ability, neural processing, and even high school retention rates are improved. 

Engaging our passions and hobbies in creative ways lend benefits that last a lifetime, growing our minds and bodies:

  • Physical activities boost our health and well-being.
  • Hobbies can reduce depression and improve mental health.
  • Social opportunities through hobbies increase social and interpersonal well-being.
  • Hobbies can stimulate our creativity.
  • Creative and constructive activities allow for introspection and self-improvement.

However minimal you may think it is, your talent or hobby can provide a phenomenal avenue for continuing education and self-improvement. In turn, you’ll receive social, mental, and emotional benefits that can help you across a lifetime. 

3. Vocational Programs

No matter what your education level or career aspirations, looking into vocational training can ensure you have a fallback and a way to securely make money and invest in your future.

Interested individuals can take advantage of hands-on learning opportunities rarely offered in a classroom while working side-by-side with industry professionals in a field that interests them. Because of their significant disparity in cost and time commitment compared to a traditional university degree, vocational programs are a way of expanding your exposure to real-world experience and helping you find a career and interests that truly suit you in an affordable capacity.

Additionally, vocational training can offer you an environment in which to meet new people with shared interests. Making friends as an adult isn’t always easy. Expanding your skillset with like-minded individuals is a great place to build a community.

Taking the time to participate in vocational training can be a fun, educational, and social experience that also provides you useful tools to begin a potential career in a field you are interested in. For any young adult expanding their skills through continuing education, vocational training offers paths to success that could last you a lifetime. 

The Lifelong Benefits of a Commitment to Education in Middle-Age

Perhaps you are established in a career field or maybe even looking for a new one in your middle age. Continuing your education is paramount in any case. Offering opportunities for career advancement, social networking, and developing new technical skills, education in your middle age will give you the tools to thrive and grow. 

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1. Education for Working Individuals

Whether you are a boss or an employee, you can learn and help others learn through useful training programs and vocational opportunities for self-betterment. Continuing education makes for the greater potential within a workplace, with a reported 218% increase in average income per employee among companies that integrate employee training programs in the workplace.

Education has a real financial value that can help you or your employees advance and grow, bettering their prospects and hope for the future. With continued training in and out of the workplace, you can build a substantial nest egg for your retirement all while advancing your current or future career. 

2. Social Learning on a Busy Schedule 

A great way to continue your education even with a full-time job and a committed family schedule is through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These tools enable many people to receive education through a flexible online platform, and in a post-COVID world, they are all but a necessity in ensuring the continuing of education at all.

MOOCs offer a plethora of benefits for anyone in any stage of life. In middle age, the flexibility they present can be a lifesaver. With weekly lectures in short form — less-than-ten-minute videos and quizzes — and accompanying assignments, continuing education students are able to glean what they need in a way that is conducive to any schedule.

The best part of MOOCs is that they do not require a compromise in education quality. Top-notch universities like Harvard and MIT are even participating in these platforms, allowing students to find quality instruction for a variety of topics ranging from professional development to cultivating new skills.

For anyone looking to expand their abilities and prospects later in life, MOOCs are worth joining. 

3. Learning New Tech

You may find it difficult on the job to keep up with all the new developments and inventions, especially if you work or hope to work in a field that utilizes a lot of technology. In any field, however, you won’t be able to escape a greater shift towards technology and digital platforms. This can be strenuous for many for whom new tech does not come easily.

To keep up on the tech your company is using — or to learn how to use new tech that can benefit you or your company — continue your education into your middle age and beyond.

In the next 10 years, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in nearly every workplace is expected to change a variety of roles. Understanding how this new tech is used and integrated can help ensure you maintain relevance in your field or build it in a new one.

Through continuous education, you can pick up skills and knowledge of new technology that will translate into a more secure and empowered present and future. In a world as rapidly changing as our own, maintaining a firm grasp of new innovations and their place in business processes is all but a necessity. 

A Fulfilling Retirement through Learning 

It’s now easier than ever to continue your education into your retirement. With programs across the country designed to assist older folks in their dedication to never stop learning and growing, you can find the perfect social and educational outlet for you.

In fact, more retirees than ever are returning to college through programs like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. These programs are created to accommodate those on a fixed income. That means fees far below those of traditional college course tuitions. Retirees can learn and pick up new skills as it best suits them.

Whether you choose to learn through teaching, pick up a new hobby, or take community classes for a social outlet, continuing your education in retirement can be just the stimulation and entertainment you’re looking for. 

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1. Learning by Teaching

An amazing tool of the digital age is the ability to share one’s knowledge and create a community of reciprocal learning through online education platforms. These handy tools are relatively easy to use and can provide an additional income for educators looking for an outlet.

One of the best aspects of these online education platforms like Udemy or Lynda is that they do not require a specific set of qualifications. Regardless of the path, your life has taken, you likely have knowledge that others will find useful. Structuring that knowledge into a data-driven course can help others while also teaching you the valuable skills needed in setting up a digital course.

Introduce yourself to online learning through the tools provided by online learning platforms. You can even take courses designed to help you create your own. The process of learning how to teach will give you the means to grow your income while also building your skill set, no matter your age and experience. 

2. Picking up New Hobbies

You are never too old to pick up a new hobby. Doing so will benefit you mentally, emotionally, and physically while offering new opportunities to meet people and grow. Additionally, consistent participation in stress-reducing or physical hobbies has been shown to boost the immune system and even prevent chronic illness.

Many retirement and senior centers offer options for seniors looking to pick up a new skill or trade. Additionally, you can venture online or explore opportunities in your greater community for the advancement of your passions and interests. 

3. Taking Community Classes

Almost every state and city offer some varieties of community classes designed for and around senior needs. These classes can help you maintain an active, interested learning lifestyle that will benefit you in every aspect of your healthy life.

Since many organizers of these classes understand the challenges posed by living on a fixed income, free and cheap options exist to help you maintain a commitment to lifelong education. Whether you are painting, creating pottery, writing, exercising, or so much more, you will reap the benefits of a stimulated and social outlet on a budget.

Nearly every community offers courses that could be an option in continuing education that you can use throughout your retirement. Check out what is available near you or consider taking on a digital education experience to gain familiarity with the rapidly changing world. It’s never too late to pick up the skills and knowledge that you can use throughout the rest of your life.

The Benefits of Being a Lifelong Learner

From adolescence to retirement and beyond, learning helps invigorate and sustain our lives in healthy and fulfilling ways. Continued education can be utilized in every stage of a person’s life, providing them skills, opportunities, social networks, and increased well-being in every facet of life. 

Continuing education can have benefits for every pillar of your health, including but not limited to:

  • Mental.
  • Emotional.
  • Spiritual.
  • Physical.
  • Social.

There is never a time in which these aspects of life cease to be important. By committing to continuing education, you can live a longer and better life with more of what you love in it.

It is never too late to learn new skills, grow your talents, and become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

By: Sam Bowman

Sources:

Small Business Association of Michigan, Career Metis, McKinsey, Replicon , Inc. ,Connect Solutions ,Dynamic Signal , Learning Hub , The Wall Street Journal , Forbes , Connect Solutions ,On the Clock , Atlassian ,EmailAnalytics

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