821 Sainte-Croix, Montréal, Québec Canada H4L 3X9 | Tel: 514.744.7500 | Toll-Free: 1.855.744.7500 | Fax: 514.744.7505


Pedagogical Development Office

Student-Centered Class

In a traditional approach to teaching, class time is spent with the instructor lecturing and the students listening and taking notes. Students work individually on assignments, and collaboration is discouraged.

Student-centered approach to teaching shifts the focus from the instructor to the students. This appraoch employs active learning methods that encourage students to be engaged in their own learning through class activities other than listening to a lecture, taking notes, or following instructions. As they participate in activities that involve group learning, problem solving, or inquiry-based learning, students construct their own knowledge and build new skills.

Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) are physically designed to encourage group work and to foster cooperation among students. While many instructors working in traditional classrooms have adopted a student-centered model of teaching, ALCs make student-centered approach to teaching easier to implement.

The following table presents the main differences between the traditional approach to teaching (instructor-centered) and the student-centered approach to teaching. Click here to view a video that describes the differences in both methods of teaching.

Instructor-Centered Classroom

Student-Centered Classroom

Listener, observer, and note taker

Active problem solver, contributor, and discussant

Low or moderate expectations of preparation for class

High expectations of preparation for class

Private presence in the classroom with few or no risks

Public presence with many risks

Attendance dictated by personal choice

Attendance dictated by community expectation

Competition with peers

Collaborative work with peers

Responsibilities and self-definition associated with learning independently

Responsibilities and self-definition associated with learning interdependently

Viewing teachers and texts as the sole sources of authority and knowledge

Viewing peers, self, and the community as additional and important sources of authority and knowledge

Adapted from MacGregor, J. 1990. Collaborative learning: Shared inquiry as a process of reform. In M.D. Svinicki, Ed., The changing face of college teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 42. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 19-30.