Learner-Centered Teaching

Salem State University is committed to supporting best practice in teaching. Learner-centered teaching is currently recognized as best practice by the accrediting bodies NCATE, and NEASC. In addition, research by authorities such as Fink , Weimer and Bain supports learner-centered practices as those most likely to result in effective instruction.

What is it?

The focus is on learning: "what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning."

While this approach is often talked about in the context of advances in instructional technology, it is not predicated on the use of technology.

What does it look like in the classroom?

  • Brief periods of well-designed direct instruction followed or preceded by lengthy periods of student work.
  • Students work directly with the concepts being addressed
  • Students working individually, in pairs, and in groups
  • Different students working on different projects
  • Differentiated assessments, often selected by students, but designed by instructors to concretely measure the class goals and objectives
  • Used across disciplines

Why should we use it?

  • Educators, licensing bodies, and accreditation boards want quantifiable assessments of student learning.
  • We must show student work products and evidence that these products directly assess the course objectives.
  • The emphasis is on developing students with the skills and incentive to become self-directed learners.
  • Effectiveness of instruction is assessed by what students recall and continue to be able to do as a result of a course one to five years after the course is over. Learner-centered instruction gives students the best chance of being able to perform well on these long-term assessments.

Where do I learn more?

Attend one of our workshops, visit our Council on Teaching and Learning, or take a look at the resources below.

Learner Centered Teaching Resources

This page lists and explains the fourteen learner-centered psychological principles. It is brief (about five pages worth of reading) but gives a good overview of theory.

Course Design

This site from Berkeley includes hundreds of teaching techniques that Berkeley faculty have found useful in planning and implementing effective instruction. It includes a self-evaluation form that helps you focus on areas of your teaching to review, a menu to help you find specific topics, and an index for a more detailed level of teaching. Suggestions particularly relevant to Learner-Centered teaching range from ideas for encouraging class discussion to identifying what you consider most important to having student apply concepts.

This Cornell University site has multiple resources reasonably well organized. It offers a syllabus template that guides you through the syllabus design process. It also offers course materials checklists and course planning questions. The site also emphasizes active teaching techniques and learning-centered approaches for assessing student learning.

This site from the University of Honolulu is a wonderful resource. It is well designed and easy to navigate. It addresses virtually every topic on instruction, course design, and assessment that could be wished. It also includes a particularly useful section on understanding adults who are returning to school.

Syllabus Design

This site is specifically a guide for designing a learning-centered syllabus. It includes links to several other sites focusing on components of syllabus design ranging from designing learning objectives to offering examples of syllabi that incorporate problem-based techniques. The site also includes a comprehensive list of questions that guide you through the syllabus design process. If you follow the links back to the sites home page at the University of Delaware, many other instructional supports are available.


This is a wonderful site that focuses on assessment practices in the science, math and technology fields. It offers the actual experiences of college level faculty with the various forms of assessment.

This is a list of links related to assessment in higher education. It is comprehensive.

This is a nicely formatted site that offers research on assessment in the higher education classroom along with links to further information on the topic.

This is a useful site that provides a series of techniques for developing authentic assessment tasks for the higher education classroom.