Pedagogy model

Instructions in higher education can be organized in different ways: The organization of learning activities can be made by the teacher or by the student. 

Student-centered learning environments
Student-centered learning environments reflect the characteristics of constructivism. There is not real consensus regarding the definition of student-centered learning (Lea, Stephenson, & Troy, 2003). However, there is some consensus about student-centered approaches: Students have responsibility over their own learning, opposed to a prominent role of the teacher. The following characteristics are part of student-centered approaches (Beaten, Kyndt, Struyven, & Dochy, 2010):

  • Students are active and independent.
  • The teacher has a guiding or coaching role. 
  • Knowledge is viewed as tool instead of a goal. 

In short, students are actively involved in the learning process rather than passive receivers of information in student-centered learning environments. One of the objectives of these environments is to stimulate deep learning (Beaten et al., 2010). 

Examples of student-centered learning environments 
Many different instructional methods in higher education exist that can be categorized as student-centered. 

Problem-based learning
One well-known method is problem-based learning (PBL). In PBL, students work collaboratively in small groups on realistic, ill-structured problems (e.g. description of a situation that could happen in real life), under guidance of a tutor (Barrows, 1996). The problem (i.e. authentic task) forms the starting point of the learning process. Students start a discussion about the problem based on common knowledge and their own experiences. Students need to formulate learning issues about the aspects of the problem that stayed unclear during the discussion. Afterwards, they search for relevant literature by themselves. After self-study, students discuss their findings and address the learning issues together in the group in the presence of a tutor. The tutor guides the discussion rather than he/she provides information to students (i.e., scaffolding) (Loyens, Kirschner, & Paas, 2012). 

Project-based learning and Case-based learning
Project-based learning is somewhat similar to problem-based learning, as learning is organized around a collaborative goal (Savery, 2006). The difference between both methods is that the vehicle is a project rather than a problem. Students need to accomplish a well-defined end product (i.e. project) and the learning process is to tackle the obstacles they meet when achieving the project. Teachers act as coaches to give expert guidance and suggestions for improvements. A similar instruction type is case-based learning. Students learn on the basis of well-structured cases, in order to prepare them for work in their profession (Savery, 2006). 

Project- and case-based learning are somewhat different from problem-based learning, as in problem-based learning students have more autonomy in setting the goals of the problem and its outcomes. 

Inquiry-based learning 
Curiosity of the students plays big part in this student-centered instruction type. Questioning is the start of this approach. Students need to investigate, create new knowledge, and discuss. The role of the tutor is to both guide the group process, and to provide information to students (Savery, 2006). 

Interactive lectures 
In general, lecturing is not typically student-centered. In traditional lecturing, a teacher transmits information to students and students rely on rote memorization. However, also during lectures, the teacher can try to turning the lecture into an interactive form, and focus more on the student. Mazur (2009) gives an example of this. During his lectures, students need to come prepared and they are asked (MC) questions. Students answer these questions with electronic devises, so the teacher can see the distribution of the given answers. Students are encouraged to discuss their (different) answers with peers. This way, students are stimulated to be engaged in the learning process and feedback for both teacher and student is provided. 

Teacher-centered learning environments 
Contrary to student-centered learning is teacher-centered learning. As can be expected in these types of learning environments, the teacher is more involved in the learning process of students. For example by directly providing information and instructions (e.g., in a traditional lecture). Typical for teacher-centered environments is that information is told independent of the context in which it occurs (Lea et al., 2003). Further, teacher-centered environments are characterized as more stable and well-structured (Elen, Clarebout, Léonard, & Lowyck, 2007). 


Baeten, M., Kyndt, E., Struyven, K., & Dochy, F. (2010). Using student-centered learning environments to stimulate deep approaches to learning: Factors encouraging or discouraging their effectiveness. Educational Research Review, 5, 243-260. doi: 10.1016/j.edurev.2010.06.001

Barrows, H. S. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview. In W. H. Gijselaers (Ed.), New Directions for Teaching and Learning (pp. 3-12). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. doi: 10.1002/tl.37219966804

Elen, J., Clarebout, G., Lépnard, R., & Lowyck, J. (2007). Student-centered and teacher-centered learning environment: What students think. Teaching in Higher Education, 12, 105-117. Doi: 10.1080/13562510601102339

Lea, S. J., Stephenson, D., & Troy, J. (2003). Higher education students’ attitudes to student-centred learning: Beyond ‘educational bulimia’? Studies in Higher Education, 28, 321-334. Doi: 10.1080/03075070310000113432

Loyens, S. M. M., Kirschner, P. A., & Paas, F. (2012). Problem-based learning. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA Educational Psychology Handbook (p. 403-425). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/13275-016

Mazur, E. (2009). Farewell, Lecture? Science, 323, 50-51. doi: 10.1126/science.1168927

O’Donnell, A. M. (2012). Constructivism. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA Educational Psychology Handbook (p.61-84). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/13273-003

Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1, 9-20.