Why Student Centered Learning is Only Half Right

--Originally published at flipclass – Flipped Learning Simplified

In the past seven years I have attended and participated in approximately one hundred educational conferences around the globe. I have had the privilege of learning from some of the preeminent thought leaders in the world of education. Their presentations have pushed me to think in new ways about education. Many of these thought leaders have been advocates for student-centered learning. Although I have been inspired by their stories and love the idea of students taking ownership for their learning, I think that student-centered learning is only half right.

Maybe I am old school. I still believe that students don’t know what they don’t know. There is a reason departments of education have curriculum guides. Many very smart people have spent countless hours determining what students need to know and be able to accomplish. In 2009 I served on the oversight committee for the rewriting of the Colorado State Standards. I believe that it is important for a society to pass on its values, core beliefs, and key learnings. If students took complete control of their learning, I believe that many of these core teachings would be overlooked. I want all students to be able to read, compute, and know the history of their respective countries.

Before I get the hate comments from those espousing student-centered learning, I want you to know I am a fan. If all we do is teach reading, writing, and math, then we are shortchanging students in the 21st century. In this connected, information-saturated world, students must know how to determine what information is valid, and then use that knowledge to solve unique problems – including those that don’t even exist yet.  Students today need to be able to develop thinking outside of the box.

What I am calling for is a balance. Let’s combine the fundamentals with student-centered education. I feel that this is necessary because I believe the vast majority of teachers realize that students need both. I like to think of this as a continuum.  


When I say we need balance, I feel class time should be a balance between the two extremes. But how do we do this? How do we value the more traditional learning modalities and allow for more student-centered learning?

One of the ways to create this balance is to adopt flipped learning. In flipped learning students get exposed to curriculum through short micro-videos (flipped videos). That then allows class time for students to get a deeper understanding of the traditional curriculum and also to allow for more time for student-centered learning. One of the great examples of this is the adoption of Genius Hour by many flipped educators. Educators who use the genius hour approach might devote 80% of class time to learning content in a flipped manner, while the remaining time is more open-ended and allows for students to ask questions and explore what interests them.  


What do you think? What does your gut tell you about student-centered learning? Are some educators going too far as I suppose? Or are we not going far enough?  

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