In education, we often talk about “student-centered learning,” but what does that mean?

Few schools really ARE student-centered as the true definition of student-centered has everything to do with the students and much less to do with the operational convenience that we see in place in many schools. 

Many schools and districts are structured for operational convenience, rather than instructional effectiveness.

Most classroom layouts (rows of desks), bell schedules (traditional 45-minute blocks of time), academic progressions (student advancement based on seat-time), and the like are often structured in ways that help organize a school system based on the needs of the adults who are serving students. 

A student-centered learning environment is one that organizes and structures all of these things based on instructional approaches that are focused on students. This includes adjusting:

  • Time-based structures such as student schedules,
  • Learning spaces, and 
  • Student academic advancement

When we make these changes, they must be based on what each individual student needs and not necessarily what is convenient for us adults.

There is plenty of research in the field of education that tells us students learn differently from one another. Therefore, it only makes sense that the learning plans or pathways for students will differ as well. In a student-centered learning environment, the teacher helps to create an environment that is personal to each student’s learning needs. 

Components of student-centered learning


Student-centered learning environments are highly tuned in to students’ individual needs and should include a student’s voice in the co-creation of a learning plan or pathway. Students who have this voice demonstrate an increased level of interest and ownership of their learning. 


Offering students choices relating to the format, content, and assessment of their learning (e.g., independent work, teacher-led instruction, project-based learning, internships, online or digital options, etc.) can have a significant impact on student engagement and performance. 

Competency-based progression

The academic progress of students is based on the demonstration of mastery or competence of predetermined standards. With an established standard of expected performance, all students can work toward competency along their own pathway and at their own pace. 

Continuous monitoring of student needs

In an effective student-centered learning environment, all three of these characteristics are governed by a process that is committed to the continuous monitoring and adjustment of individual student learning pathways.

When we do this — all of these things — then we can say that we are truly keeping students “at the center” and we have created a student-centered learning environment.