BOOK REVIEW: DEVELOPING LEARNER-CENTERED TEACHING: A Practical Guide for Faculty by Phyllis Blumberg. (Jossey-Bass, 2009).

Presented as a workbook, Developing Learner-Centered Teaching by Phyllis Blumberg provides instructors, program developers, and administrators with a systematic framework for transforming any class into a more learner-centered environment. According to the author, learner-centered instruction focuses on what students are learning, how they are learning, and how they use the acquired learning.  Blumberg thoroughly discusses five dimensions, or areas, of learner-centered teaching, which are: 1) the function of content; 2) the role of the instructor; 3) the responsibility for learning; 4) the purposes and processes of assessment, and 5) the balance of power.  By using the provided rubrics and planning exercises for each dimension, readers can determine the current learner-centered status of a course and select components that can be transformed into a more learner-centered approach. The author has included numerous explanations, guidelines, self-assessments, planning tools, tables, graphs, exhibits, application activities, and mini case studies to further explain and assist in the process.

Developing Learner-Centered Teaching is very straightforward, practical and thorough in its discussion of the five areas of learner-centered teaching, which I found very valuable.  However, I initially found it a confusing read because of the series of rubrics that form the core of the book.   Once I understood that the same format is used for all rubrics in the five dimensions of learner-centered teaching, I found the book, aided by Blumberg’s clear and in-depth explanations, much easier to comprehend. All rubrics are included in Appendix B, and can be copied as many times as necessary.

By reading, understanding, and using the rubrics, I developed a much greater appreciation of the varying components of learner-centered teaching and an ability to better assess my own instructional techniques. The rubrics clearly identify incremental steps on a continuum for transforming a course from instructor-centered to learner-centered.  For example, for the function of content, which is the first dimension of learner-centered teaching, Table B.1 lists the second component as “using organizing schemes.”  For this dimension, the rubric defines an instructor-centered approach as the instructor providing content without a clearly defined organizing scheme, such as an outline or a concept map.  Providing limited organizing assistance signifies a lower level learner-centered approach to helping students learn content.  A higher-level approach provides some organizing schemes to help learn content.  In a fully learner-centered approach, the instructor provides and consistently uses organizing schemes to help students learn content.

I found Part One of this book especially useful with an excellent introduction and a discussion of myths about learner-centered teaching. Common myths include the beliefs that less material is covered with learner-centered approaches, that students learn less, that learner-centered teaching promotes grade inflation, and that only upper-level or graduate level classes are suitable because students in lower-level classes are unable to succeed in learner-centered courses. Blumberg debunks these myths by presenting and discussing current research on the effectiveness of learner-centered approaches, and states, “Students in learner-centered programs differ from students in more instructor-centered programs in some concrete and specific ways.” (p 11) According to the author, students in learner-centered programs exhibit five valuable and distinguishing characteristics: 1) knowing why they need to learn the content; 2) understanding their learning abilities and how they acquire knowledge; 3) using knowledge for problem-solving; 4) engaging in life-long learning, and 5) communicating their knowledge outside the classroom.

Blumberg includes numerous brief case studies throughout the book, which I found especially useful in deepening my understanding of how to implement learner-centered strategies and expand my repertoire.  One example is a case study in Chapter Six, “The Responsibility for Learning,” in which the accompanying rubric defines the fourth component as students’ self-assessment of their learning.  In the case study, students in an engineering class were required to write at least one page per week in a journal or learning log. Guided by changing directions throughout the semester, students wrote chapter summaries, drew analogies between engineering principles and everyday life, and offered descriptions of how they solved word problems.  By the end of the term, most students wrote that the varied assignments had helped them to organize and retain the information better, discover their preferred writing activity, and see the relationships between the engineering concepts and real-world applications. The students’ comments thus demonstrated their being at the learner-centered level for this component, which is defined on the rubric as the instructor motivating students to assess routinely and appropriately their own learning.

I recommend this book for those educators who are truly desirous of incorporating more learner-centered instruction in their classrooms, want a deeper understanding of this approach and a clear and systematic process to follow, and are willing to invest the required time to do so.  Based on the workbook format, clear and succinct explanations, development and discussion of the components and dimensions, informative case studies, and reproducible rubrics, I award Blumberg’s book 5 stars out of a possible 5.  

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

–Reviewed by Marilyn Briggs, Faculty, ESL, Compton Learning Center, El Camino College, CA

Forum Image OptionDeveloping Learner-Centered Teaching Forum