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What is Student-centered Learning?

 Student-centered approaches to learning are drawn from the mind/brain sciences, learning theory, and research on youth development, and are essential to students’ full engagement in achieving deeper learning outcomes.

 The four tenets of student-centered approaches to learning challenge the current schooling and education paradigm:

  • Learning Is Personalized;
  • Learning Is Competency-Based;
  • Learning Takes Place Anytime, Anywhere; and
  • Students Exert Ownership Over Their Learning.

Why Student-centered Learning?

To prepare for our future as a nation in an increasingly global and fast-changing society, dramatic change in our educational system is needed to enable all students to learn, not just some.

Students at the Center explores the role that student-centered approaches can play to deepen learning and prepare young people to meet the demands and engage the opportunities of the 21st century. This synthesis of research renews attention to the importance of engaging each student in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed for success in college and a career. Student-centered approaches to learning, while recognizing that learning is a social activity, pay particular attention to the importance of customizing education to respond to each student’s needs and interests.


The broad application of student-centered approaches to learning has much in common with other education reform movements including closing the achievement gaps and providing equitable access to a high-quality education, especially for underserved youth. Student-centered approaches also align with emerging work to attain the promise and meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards through achieving deeper learning outcomes (master core academic content, think critically and creatively to solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, learn how to learn, and develop academic mindsets).

Papers by Subject Area

What does foundational and emerging research, particularly in the cognitive and behavioral sciences, tell us about how students learn and about what motivates them to learn?

How are student-centered learning approaches implemented? What is the nature of teaching in student-centered learning environments? How can students who are underrepresented in postsecondary education be engaged earlier and perform well in the math and reading activities that scaffold learning? How are advances in technology customizing curriculum and changing modes of learning to meet each student's need?

How have schools attempted to increase personalization and with what outcomes for learning? What is the relationship between assessment and student-centered approaches? What can districts do to support student-centered approaches to deeper learning?

Students at the Center synthesizes and adapts for practice current research on key components of student-centered approaches to learning and deeper learning outcomes. Our goal is to strengthen the ability of practitioners and policymakers to engage each student in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed for success in college, career, and civic life.  The edited volume of Students at the Center research papers Anytime, Anywhere: Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers (2013) is available from Harvard Education Press.  This Jobs for the Future project is supported generously by funds from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

                                 Jobs for the Future         Nellie Mae Education Foundation         Hewlett Foundation