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Student-Centered Learning During a Pandemic

Student-Centered Learning During a Pandemic

The current pandemic provides schools with an opportunity, if they choose to take it, to explore different ways of teaching. 

Many buzzwords have been thrown around for the last decade or two describing different methods of innovative teaching: flipped classrooms, blended learning, personalized learning, hybrid learning, virtual instruction, differentiated instruction, competency-based learning, data-driven instruction, project-based learning and STEM, just to name a few.

But which ones are most effective? Could it possibly be different depending on the student? Is there a better term that can be used to focus on what is really important? Where did all these terms come from anyway? 

I have been teaching about using technology with these different innovative teaching methods for the last seven years. Recently, I found a set of books that have helped clarify my thinking around innovative teaching and learning, and I’d like to share my experience. These books are not new and have been around for years, but it may be time to revisit them. 

The first book is Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson. Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation in 1995 to describe how startup companies can move into an established industry by targeting areas of non-consumption. In 2008, Christensen, Horn and Johnson focused their research on how disruptive innovation can apply to education. As an example, focusing on non-consumption helped online curriculum companies gain a foothold in education. Rural schools often struggle to provide foreign language and AP courses to students due to insufficient demand to hire qualified teachers. This provided an opportunity for online curriculum companies to meet this non-consumption by providing online courses in AP and foreign languages.

The second book is Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker. In this follow-up book released in 2014, Horn and Staker expand on the first book by refining their thinking about how disruptive innovation can impact education and by providing models that schools can use. They also provide links to many videos showing schools using blended learning in instruction. 

These two books help solidify two phrases that describe traditional versus innovative instruction. “Monolithic Instruction” describes the old way of teaching, which is still  present in today’s schools. Teachers teach a topic to the middle of the class for a certain period of time. Those who learn the topic quickly may become bored waiting to move on. Those who struggle may not learn the topic before the teacher must move on to the next topic.  

Horn and Staker offer “Student-Centered Learning” as a solution to monolithic instruction. They define student-centered learning as a combination of personalized learning with competency-based learning. Content is delivered to meet the needs and interests of each individual student, and students move at their own pace as they master each competency. They recommend a blended learning model of instruction, combining face-to-face instruction with individualized computer-based instruction. They show examples of how this model of education engages students more and leads to better academic performance as students move on only after they master each standard. 

So, during this time of disruption due to the pandemic, maybe schools can look at ways of improving instruction for their students. Maybe they can use some of the methods and buzzwords described above or in the two books to move towards a student-centered learning environment.

As always, if you need any help with technology to reach these goals or just want to brainstorm ideas, reach out to OPSRC's tech team at

Kurt Bernhardt

Director, Technology

Kurt serves as OPSRC's technology director.

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