This is a guest blog post by VEDAMO, a partner of eThink Education. VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom is a simple solution, yet rich with features for interactive teaching that allow teachers to easily moderate online sessions.
In the debate about the need for change in education, there is one overwhelmingly accepted idea: the learner should be the beneficiary of any classroom changes. The traditional, instructor-centered approach to learning has its gaps, with students only being mentally present 40% of the time during lectures and retaining only 20% of the information by the end of a class.
With these issues at hand, a more sensible paradigm has been promoted in the last few decades: Learner Centered Education (LCE). LCE has become a “traveling policy” and endorsed around the globe. Web conferencing in virtual classrooms has proved to be one of the most successful environments to LCE. Here is why.
What is learner-centered education?
Like most trending terms in the field of teaching, different people have different interpretations of what “learner-centered” truly entails. In UNICEF’s Think Piece series, Professor Schweisfurth explained that LCE is an emancipatory narrative to promote democratization. In simple terms, “learner-centered” means “more active,” or the antidote to the traditional approach.
Online instruction involves the necessary tools and technologies to put students in the spotlight and deliver a more hands-on, accessible, and high-quality LCE.
Why learner-centered education?
- Motivation boost. Research shows promising results in improving motivation when learner-centered principles are applied in a multimedia environment. Why? Participants repeatedly report that they found web courses interesting and fun, but also said: “I don’t have to worry if I am slow in learning.”
- Longer-lasting knowledge. Psychologists confirm that a student’s sense of control helps them build on already established neural connections, which results in more sustainable knowledge.
- Transferability of skills. The ultimate objectives of online LCE are comprehension, analysis, and synthesis, rather than the recall of facts. Thinking is a life-long skill. For everything else – there’s Google.
- Keeps course dropouts at bay. Consider the Learning Pyramid, exhibited below. All types of online LCE result in higher retention rates by keeping students involved, which improves engagement and fuels interest in subject matter.
The benefits of LCE are well established, yet attempts at putting the concept into play are still in their infancy. A powerful learning management system with an integrated web-conferencing environment makes it possible to put students first and has resulted in some positive strategies for LCE.
Online learning-centered strategies
In her 15 years of research, Barbara McCombs at the University of Denver has captured the most actionable online learner-centered strategies. Here are the 5 areas of effective practices outlined in her research:
1. Create a positive learning environment and relationships.
High levels of support and low levels of conflict constitute a good climate in the web-conferencing virtual classroom. The figure of the caring teacher is central, as is the one who is empathetic, interested, a good listener, and looking for students’ gifts and talents. Everyone needs a helping hand to rise or fall. Or, as pupils stated in a report for , they need: “a space where students can fail, and still be like, OK, I’m gonna try again, but in a different way.” Web conferencing tools like the online whiteboard provide a safe space for collaborative work. Shy students in particular appreciate the inclusiveness of the virtual classroom as they feel more in control of their comments and how they express their ideas.
То build and maintain a positive atmosphere, it is important that students connect with one another in the virtual classroom through cameras, microphones, and chat options. The ability to turn cameras and microphones on and off gives students an additional sense of control and safety.
Another possible consideration is using gamification to create a low stress environment to foster bonds. Divide the class into groups and quiz them or use breakout room functionality to run a mystery solving contest. This provides an environment for conversations to naturally emerge among students.
2. Adapt to the learning needs of the class.
At the end of the day, students attend online classes because they want to gain knowledge and be successful in life.
High-level teaching in class includes clarity, purpose, order, and rules. Over time, you need to agree on etiquette (i.e., proper web manners) within your class. Rules of behavior are not just niceties. They represent shared practices that create a sense of belonging.
3. Facilitate the learner-centered process.
A learner-centered environment is about “enabling” rather than “telling.” Research confirms that self-motivated learning is only possible when students can choose and control what, when, and how to learn, as well as what they want to achieve. Teachers can also facilitate a choice-oriented process in the web conferencing virtual classroom by making sure that:
- An atmosphere of “relaxed alertness” is maintained.
- Students are engaged and immersed in the learning material.
- Reflection on the learning experience is taking place through thought-provoking questions.
4. Promote personal responsibility.
At the heart of learner-centered teaching there lies a simple truth: we all need to be free to make choices. Principles of intrinsic motivation promote nurturing autonomy and competence. Online synchronous education allows for shifting and flexible roles. A common practice is for students to take the tutor’s role and present material in class. These mini teaching tasks promote personal responsibility and interaction.
Sometimes students may fail, but that can be beneficial. While encouraging students to overcome personal challenges, instructors need to keep an eye on those who struggle. A smart learning management system has the right tools to provide personalized help. For example, students can follow tailored learning pathways to work on individualized assignments.
5. Provide for social learning needs.
Some students prefer to learn alone, but most are seeking a more collaborative learning environment. Encourage students to connect with each other from the beginning. Ask them to introduce themselves, let them answer questions from their peers, and stimulate discussions by asking thought-provoking questions. Web conferencing technology certainly helps. An online whiteboard allows everyone to participate in content creation, while synchronous audio/video conferencing creates a sense of physical immediacy. Functionality like a “raise hand” button gives everyone the chance to speak and breakout rooms enable small-group discussions.
To truly put the learners at the center of the lesson, instructors need to take а more multifaceted approach to learning. When there is synergy between the learning management system and web conferencing technology, the strategies discussed above can be applied effectively and efficiently. Thus, instructors can spend time on what matters most: reflection, relationships, and responsibility.