About the Project


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Students at the Center synthesizes and adapts for practice current research on key components of student-centered approaches to learning that lead to 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.

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To prepare the nation for an increasingly global and fast changing world, our educational system needs to enable all students—not just some—to achieve the deeper learning knowledge, skills, and dispositions that can ensure college and career success and an engaged civic life. Despite unprecedented attention to improving schools, the United States faces continuing failures to significantly raise educational achievement and attainment levels—or to close persistent race and income gaps. It will be impossible to meet the higher expectations that the Common Core State Standards set and our new economy demands for every student while conducting business as usual in the classroom.

Meeting higher expectations requires returning attention to fundamental issues in education—how, when, where, why, and what students learn. However, despite growing interest in student-centered learning approaches that lead to deeper learning outcomes, educators have few places to which they can turn for a comprehensive accounting of key components or practices of this emerging field.

Jobs for the Future launched the project by commissioning nine noted research teams to synthesize existing research in order to lay the foundation the knowledge base for studentcentered approaches to learning and make the findings more widely available. Students at the Center continues to help build understanding of and support for these ideas through the edited volume of Students at the Center research papers Anytime, Anywhere: Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers (2013), conferences, professional development, social and mainstream media, and ongoing development and release of a collection of tools and resources that help make the research actionable for those wishing to implement more student-centered approaches in the classroom, school, district, or beyond.

Increasingly, policymakers are engaged in important debates and decisions that will determine our effectiveness in increasing educational and economic opportunity and productivity for all learners. In fall 2013, Students at the Center launched a second aligned and integrated effort to coalesce and make accessible the evidence base on effective learning strategies and deeper learning outcomes. This undertaking is particularly geared towards building knowledge in formats that policymakers can draw upon to keep deeper learning outcomes front and center as they engage in the real-time debates and decisions that will determine the effectiveness of our schools in creating a highly competent and productive workforce and engaged citizens for the 21st century.


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:

  1. Learning Is Personalized: Together educators, parents, and students customize learning experiences— what they learn, and how, when, and where they learn it—to students' individual developmental needs, skills, and interests. Although where, how, and when they learn might vary according to their needs, students also develop deep connections to each other and their teachers and other adults. Many applications of personalized learning emphasize the use of technology to enable the level of differentiation at scale.
  2. Learning Is Competency-Based: Students move ahead based not on their age or the numbers of hours they log in the classroom but, primarily, based on their ability to demonstrate that they have reached key milestones along the path to mastery of core competencies and bodies of knowledge. Further, each student must be provided with the scaffolding and differentiated support needed to keep progressing at a pace appropriate to reaching college, career, and civic outcomes, even when unequal resources are required to achieve a more equitable result.
  3. Learning Takes Place Anytime, Anywhere: Time is fully utilized to optimize and extend student learning and to allow for educators to engage in reflection and planning. Students have equitable opportunities to learn outside of the typical school day and year in a variety of settings, take advantage of the variety of digital technologies that can enhance learning, and can receive credit for this learning based on their demonstration of skills and knowledge.
  4. Students Exert Ownership Over Their Learning: Students understand how to get “smarter” by applying effort strategically to learning tasks in various domains and content areas. They have frequent opportunities to direct and to reflect and improve on their own learning progression toward college and career ready standards through formative assessments that help them understand their own strengths and learning challenges.