Student-centred learning

Learner-focused education is an approach to education that highlights the significance of student participation in the learning process. Learner-centred methodologies are considered crucial for maintaining the quality of teaching and learning in higher education.

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The student-centred learning ecosystem. Source: Klemenčič, 2020.

What is student-centred learning?

Student-centred learning is a multifaceted concept that requires students to actively participate in and contribute to their learning journey, knowledge acquisition, and competence development.

In this educational approach, students are not just passive recipients, but active participants and co-creators of knowledge. They take charge of their own learning process. The role of the teacher (Biggs & Tang, 2022) and/or supervisor (Balkefors et al., 2016), in turn, becomes that of facilitator, guiding students towards knowledge and competence, while adjusting their support to match the student’s learning level and objectives (Trinidad, 2020).

Teaching and supervising should be tailored according to the student’s stage in their learning, whether they are just starting, nearing completion of a course or programme, and whether they are at Bachelor or Master level. The emphasis should be placed on the advancement and enrichment of knowledge, with the ultimate goal of fostering increased self-reliance and autonomy in the student.

The evolution of student-centred learning is frequently linked to the principles of constructivism. Constructivism is a theory that posits that knowledge is not passively received, but actively built on by learners. It suggests that students develop understanding by integrating new information and experiences with what they have previously learned and experienced (Lee & Branch, 2018).

In this context, learning is viewed as an active process where individuals create their own understanding and knowledge through experiences and interactions with the world. Therefore, in a student-centred learning environment, students are encouraged to take charge of their own learning journey, actively participating in and shaping their educational experience.

Students’ academic achievement increases when their learning is customized, interactive, and student-centered rather than standardized, passive, and faculty-centered.

Schell, 2012

Why use student-centred learning?

Student-centred learning is considered central to the quality assurance of teaching and learning in higher education (Clifton & Lundberg, 2022).

At European level, student-centred learning is enshrined in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG 2015), which provide guidance for Swedish higher education institutions (Högskoleverket, 2011).

The Bologna Process (1999), which aimed to bring more coherence to higher education systems across Europe, encourages student-centred learning in several ways. It promotes an educational approach that is centred around the student and their needs (EHEA, 2015), rather than being centred around the teacher’s or supervisor’s input. This approach has many implications for the design and flexibility of curriculum, course content, and interactivity of the learning process.

The Bologna Process also implemented a system of quality assurance to strengthen the quality and relevance of learning and teaching (EEA, n.d.). This ensures that the teaching methods are effective and beneficial for the students.

One of the objectives of the Bologna Process has been that universities and colleges should develop learning outcomes that encourage student-centred learning in the curricula of their programmes (Lundberg, 2013).

What methods are student-centred?

Here are some examples of methods that promote student-centred learning:


Self-assessment enables students to take ownership of their learning by judging the extent of their knowledge and understanding. It provides a structure for them to reflect on their work, what they have learned, and how to improve. Self-correcting tests on Canvas, for example, serve as formative assessments since they support students in assessing themselves against the learning objectives of a course. This approach fosters self-monitoring of knowledge and goal fulfilment.

Peer Learning

Peer learning is an educational practice where students interact with other students to attain educational goals. It can be a way of moving beyond independent to interdependent or mutual learning among peers, fostering self-organisation and promoting active, constructive processes.

Flipped Classroom

A flipped classroom is an instructional strategy that introduces students to content at home, and then deepens understanding through problem-solving and active learning during class time. This approach shifts the traditional model of teaching, allowing for a deeper approach to learning.

Team-based learning (TBL)

TBL is a collaborative teaching strategy that enhances student engagement and learning quality through a structured process. It consists of modules taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercises.

Case-based learning (CBL)

CBL is a teaching method where students apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, promoting higher levels of cognition. In CBL, students typically work in groups on case studies, which present disciplinary problems for which students devise solutions under the guidance of the facilitator.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

PBL is an instructional method where students learn about a topic through the solving of problems, often in groups. The problems are usually complex and open-ended, with no one correct answer. The learning goals and outcomes are often jointly set by the students and the teacher or supervisor.

Project-based learning

Project-based learning is a teaching method where students gain knowledge and skills by working on real-world and personally meaningful projects over an extended period. This approach encourages active exploration of real-world challenges, fostering critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication.

Interprofessional learning (IPL)

IPL is an educational approach where students from different professions learn about, from, and with each other to improve collaboration and health outcomes. It aligns with student-centered learning as it fosters active, collaborative learning experiences, and encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning, thereby enhancing their readiness for professional practice.

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Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. Photo: N/A.

How does student-centred learning contribute to quality?

Student-centred learning will help you:

Focus on student learning:

  • Students advance in their education when they demonstrate they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn.
  • Students are given opportunities to make choices about their own learning and contribute to the design of learning experiences.

Connect outcomes, teaching, and assessment:

  • The teaching approach in student-centred learning is facilitative rather than directive. This approach encourages students to take ownership of their learning process, fostering skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning.
  • Assessment in student-centred learning is often formative and ongoing, providing students with regular feedback on their progress towards their learning outcomes. The focus is on identifying areas for improvement and strategies for achieving learning outcomes, rather than simply grading performance.

Improve the quality of teaching & learning:

  • By encouraging students to take an active role in their education, student-centred learning helps develop important skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning. These skills are not only crucial for academic success but are also highly valued lifelong learning skills.