eLearning: 5 Tips to Designing Student-Centered Courses

The eLearning experience is one that instructional designers must carefully consider. In online learning environments the instructional designer must anticipate what will interest and motivate students, what will challenge them but not overwhelm them, and most importantly know where they will have difficulty. Creating courses with a student-centered philosophy, is based on an idea that the learner should be at the heart of the educational experience, not the teacher. This can manifest in many ways and be interpreted differently by practitioners; however, the following is a brief guideline to promote learner-centered instructional design.

1. Engage Students In Authentic Activities. It is usually easier to tell a student what to do rather than give them an assignment that guides them through the process. This is especially true of designing courses that are primarily theoretical in nature. It is very tempting to simply provide the theory, a brief history of its inception, and quiz students on regurgitating the basic facts. A more learner-centered approach would present the theory, offer concrete examples of where the theory could be applied, include an activity where competing theories could be used to explain the situation, and a paper or discussion would allow students to offer opinions of their own.

2. Learning How To Learn. It is easy to forget to teach students how to learn, as it is often assumed they already know how to do it. I have found it does absolute wonders to explicitly point out how to ask questions when you are reading an article or book chapter, how to approach brain storming when one is stuck on what to write for a paper, how to engage in a group discussion, or simply how to monitor one’s own progress. Teaching students metawareness or metacognition allows them to become conscious of their own learning process which helps facilitate success in all aspects of learning.

3. Give Students Control. A student-centered learning experience presents the learner with the steering wheel and an internal locus of control. This is evident in students having choices; either about topics they research, project selection, timing of submissions, or simply how they approach an assignment. Allowing students to have some control improves motivation, self-esteem, and overall investments in the learning experience.

4. Skills, Skills, Skills. Students almost always say, “how will I be able to use this in the future?” Show them through providing concrete skills that tie directly to the domain that is being taught. Teach the skill through current industry use and students intrinsic curiosity will motivate them!

5. Communicate and Collaborate. Student-centered learning experiences provide for group discussions, partnered projects, assignments to ask questions to people outside the classroom, interviews, and brain storming sessions. It also allows for an open dialogue with the instructor through invitations to pose questions, open-ended comments that encourage further discussions, and opportunities for forum discussions or web chats.

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