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What does it mean to be Learner-Centered?


"From an integrated and holistic look at the Principles, the following definition emerges:

'Learner centered' is the perspective that couples a focus on individual learners - their heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs - with a focus on learning - the best available knowledge about learning and how it occurs and about teaching practices that are most effective in promoting the highest levels of motivation, learning, and achievement for all learners. This dual focus then informs and drives educational decision making. Learner-centered is a reflection in practice of the Learner-Centered Psychological Principles - in the programs, practices, policies, and people that support learning for all.


This definition of learner-centered is thus based on an understanding of the Learner- Centered Psychological Principles as a representation of the current knowledge base on learners and learning. The Principles apply to all learners, in and outside of school, young and old. Learner-centered is also related to the beliefs, characteristics, dispositions, and practices of teachers - practices primarily created by the teacher. When teachers and their practices function from an understanding of the knowledge base delineated in the Principles, they


(a) include learners in decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed;

(b) value each learner's unique perspectives; 

(c) respect and accommodate individual differences in learners' backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences; and

(d) treat learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process."


Excerpt from Assessing the Role of Educational Technology in the Teaching and Learning Process: A Learner-Centered Perspective by Barbara L. McCombs, University of Denver Research Institute, in Secretary's Conference on Educational Technology 2000 []

The 14 Learner-Centered Principles

as defined by the American Psychological Association* (APA) are: 


Nature of the Learning Process: The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.

Teachers prioritize intentional processes that empower students to construct meaning from information, experiences, and their own thoughts and beliefs. The goal is to cultivate active, self-regulating learners who take personal interest in the learning process, as these factors tend to lead to greater learning success.


Construction of Knowledge: The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.

Students expand and strengthen their knowledge by connecting new information and experiences with what they already know. These connections can take various forms, like adding to, modifying, or reorganizing their existing knowledge or skills. The way these connections are formed may differ depending on the subject or the abilities and interests of the students. However, if the new knowledge is not integrated with their prior understanding, it remains isolated and cannot be applied effectively to new tasks or transferred to different situations. To help learners acquire and integrate knowledge, educators can use effective strategies like concept mapping and thematic organization or categorization.


Thinking About Thinking: Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.

Individuals who achieve success in learning possess the ability to contemplate their own thinking and learning processes. They establish practical targets for learning or performance, identify learning techniques that may be effective, and keep track of their progress towards these objectives. Furthermore, they are aware of what to do in the event of encountering an issue or if they are not making sufficient or prompt progress. They can devise alternative strategies to achieve their goals (or review the suitability and usefulness of the objective). Teaching approaches that concentrate on developing these higher-level (metacognitive) strategies can improve student learning and encourage personal interest for learning.


Motivational and Emotional Influences on Learning: What and how much is learned is influenced by the motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual's emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.

The thoughts, beliefs, goals, and expectations of a learner's internal world can impact their quality of thinking and information processing. A student's perception of themselves as learners and their beliefs about learning can heavily influence their motivation. Emotional and motivational factors also play a role in a learner's quality of thinking and information processing. Positive emotions, like curiosity, tend to boost motivation and improve learning and performance. However, strong negative emotions, such as anxiety, panic, rage, and insecurity, can decrease motivation, interfere with learning, and lead to poor performance.


Effects of Motivation on Effort: Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners' motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

Motivation to learn can be measured by the effort put into acquiring complex knowledge and skills. This effort requires significant energy and persistence over time. Educators should aim to enhance learner effort and commitment to learning by implementing effective strategies, such as purposeful learning activities, practices that increase positive emotions and intrinsic motivation, and methods that make a task seem interesting and personally relevant. This will help learners achieve high standards of comprehension and understanding.


Social Influences on Learning: Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.

Learning can be improved when learners have opportunities to interact and collaborate with others during instructional tasks. Encouraging social interactions and respecting diversity can promote flexible thinking, social competence, and higher levels of cognitive, social, and moral development. Additionally, stable, trusting, and caring personal relationships can increase learners' sense of belonging and self-esteem, and create a positive learning environment. Positive learning environments can also help learners feel safe to share ideas, actively participate in the learning process, and create a learning community. To optimize learning, family influences, positive interpersonal support, and instruction in self-motivation strategies can counteract factors that may interfere with learning, such as negative beliefs about competence in a particular subject, high levels of stress, and undue pressure to perform well.


Goals of the Learning Process: The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.

In order to learn strategically, students need to have a clear sense of purpose. This involves creating relevant goals that align with their personal and educational values. While short-term goals may be incomplete at first, by filling gaps, resolving inconsistencies and deepening their knowledge, students can refine their understanding and achieve longer-term goals. Educators play an important role in helping learners set meaningful goals that are consistent with their interests and values.


Strategic Thinking: The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.

Effective learners employ strategic thinking when approaching learning, problem-solving, reasoning, and concept acquisition. They are capable of utilizing various strategies to achieve their learning and performance objectives, and to apply their knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations. Moreover, they continuously broaden their range of strategies by reflecting on their approaches and determining which methods are effective, receiving guidance and feedback, and observing or interacting with suitable models. Educators can boost learning outcomes by aiding learners in developing, applying, and evaluating their strategic thinking abilities.


Context of Learning: Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.

Learning is not a solitary activity, as teachers play a crucial role in facilitating the process. Additionally, cultural and group dynamics can significantly impact various aspects of education, such as motivation, learning orientation, and thinking styles. Effective use of technology and instructional methods must consider the learners' prior knowledge, cognitive abilities, and learning strategies. Furthermore, the learning environment has a considerable influence on student learning outcomes, particularly its nurturing or non-nurturing nature.


Intrinsic Motivation to Learn: The learner's creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn. Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.

The desire to learn is often driven by a learner's curiosity, flexible and insightful thinking, and creativity, which can be attributed to fulfilling their basic needs to be competent, providing choice and control. Intrinsic motivation is heightened when learners perceive tasks as interesting and meaningful, appropriate in complexity, and achievable. Additionally, tasks that mimic real-world situations and provide opportunities for choice and control can further enhance intrinsic motivation. To encourage and support learners' natural curiosity and motivation to learn, educators should attend to individual differences in perceptions of novelty, relevance, difficulty, and personal control.


Developmental Influences on Learning: As individuals develop, there are different opportunities and constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.

Tailoring the learning material to an individual's developmental level and presenting it in an enjoyable and interesting way facilitates better learning. As learners develop at different rates across intellectual, social, emotional, and physical domains, achievement in various instructional domains can also differ. Focusing too much on a particular type of developmental readiness, can hinder learners from showcasing their abilities in other performance areas. The cognitive, emotional, and social development of learners, as well as their interpretation of life experiences, are influenced by factors such as prior learning, home, environment, and social connections.


Individual Differences in Learning: Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.

Individuals possess unique capabilities and talents that are developed through learning and socialization. However, their learning preferences may not always align with their learning goals. Hence, educators should assist students in assessing their learning preferences and modifying them as needed to achieve their objectives. Furthermore, the interplay between learner differences and curricular and environmental conditions significantly influences learning outcomes. To ensure effective teaching, educators should be mindful of individual differences and tailor instructional methods and materials accordingly to accommodate learners' perceptions.


Learning and Diversity: Learning is most effective when differences in learners' linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.

While the fundamental principles of learning, effective instruction, and motivation apply to everyone, factors such as language, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and beliefs can impact a learner's ability to learn. By taking these factors into consideration when designing instructional settings, suitable learning environments can be created. When learners feel that their unique abilities, backgrounds, cultures, and experiences are respected, valued, and catered to in learning activities, it can boost motivation and achievement levels.


Standards and Assessment: Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner as well as learning progress -- including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment -- are integral parts of the learning process.

Assessment is crucial for both teachers and learners throughout the learning process. In order to promote effective learning, learners must be challenged to work towards goals that are appropriately high. To achieve this, it is important to appraise the learner's cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as well as their current knowledge and skills, in order to select instructional materials that are of an optimal level of difficulty. Ongoing assessment of the learner's understanding of the curriculum provides valuable feedback for both learners and teachers on progress towards learning goals. Standardized assessments and performance assessments can inform programmatic decisions and provide insight into achievement levels within and across individuals. Additionally, self-assessments of learning progress can enhance students' self-appraisal skills, motivation, and self-directed learning.

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