Nina's Notes

for Effective Teaching and Meaningful Learning

Adult Learning

Adult learning theories acknowledge the importance of self-determination (SDT) for mature students [1].  During past 7 years of mentoring students earning their M.Ed. degrees in a fully online university, I have observed how adult learners thrive when all three components of SDT are aligned: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. The conversations I have with students usually focus on one or more components of self-regulated learning, and I wonder why thislearning theory is not more commonly emphasized in e-learning.  

The distinction between self-directed (SDL) and self-regulated (SRL) learning is not always clear for faculty, which might cause hesitation to support learner autonomy. Generally SDL is seen to be the broader concept, where learners are choosing what and how they learn, while SRL is more often used in formal education, where curricula or syllabi are given, but students’ self-regulation is supported by instructors [2]. 

The easiest way I have found to use SRL in higher education, is to embed the cycle of planning, performance monitoring and self-assessment practices into course design, and provide a repository of planning, learning and reflection tools for students to use both independently and attached in assignments. 

Teaching the learning skills essential to mastering the discipline-specific content is embedded to the instruction of the content, instead of assuming that students have learned those skills prior to the class. While some students may have learned the skills, others might not, which presents a further requirement for providing choices: it should not be mandatory to spend time regurgitating what you already know. It doesn’t support deep learning. Without deep learning there isn't much transfer happening.

[1] Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. School Field7(2), 133-144.

[2]Saks, K., & Leijen, Ä. (2014). Distinguishing self-directed and self-regulated learning and measuring them in the e-learning context. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences112, 190-198.

Learning Theories in 3C model

Sometimes it is hard to recognize the underlying ideals in all the great resources that can be found in the internet. What has been helpful for me, is to think first what is the view of the knowledge and the learner in any given resource, and then either use it as it is or tweak it so that it better fits to my philosophy. The picture below shows an overly simplistic model of my thinking about why behaviorism shouldn't be the only learning theory used in the classroom, or while doing instructional design.

The learner-centered and learning-centered education belongs to the humanist-constructivist worldview and approach to education, deriving from cognitivist and humanist educational psychology. 

The teaching paradigm for engaging in learner-centered instruction is usually a combination of constructivist, cognitivist and humanist practices.  The main emphasis is in supporting the individual learning process and the teacher is seen as a learning facilitator instead of the source of information.

When the scientific model used in a resource only refers to the hypotetico-deductive model of reasoning, and omits all other types of inference, I know the mechanist worldview is emphasized over socio-cognitivist humanism. Examples of this are references to formulating hypotheses or following the "traditional" scientific method that is familiar from positivist or objectivist  view of reality (knowledge is measurable, objective and value free). Constructivist or subjective view of knowledge emphasizes situationality and contextuality of learning.

When education focuses on learning, the emphasis is not in arriving to the only one objectively correct learning outcome that has been defined during the instructional design phase, but in supporting students' reasoning skills and their ability to infer and support their claims with suitable references.

I think it is appropriate to note here that I am a qualitative researcher and strongly believe that qualitative and quantitative research must be conducted hand in hand in order to both create theories and test them. Students in 21st century MUST be taught both approaches, and we as educators have much work to do in getting there.


Providing learner-centered education means acknowleding the individual differences among learner group and providing instruction that focuses on supporting the learning process.  Considering learners as agents of their own lives and learning yields for best research-based approach for supporting motivational and self-regulatory practices for students of all ages.

While it appears that most research is done in K-12 learning environments, it is important to remember that student-centeredness is not a practice belonging solely to formal and formative education, but an educational approach suitable for all education and training.

Defining Learner-Centered education

American Psychological Association (APA) defined learner-centered education in 1990 and revised it in 1997. (McCombs work). In 2015 these learner-centered principles were updated to the “Top 20 Principles from Psychology for pre-K to 12 Teaching and Learning”.

These Top 20 principles have been divided into 5 areas of psychological functioning:

  1. Cognition and learning: How do students think and learn?
  2. Motivation: What motivates students?
  3. Social context and emotional dimensions: Why are social context, interpersonal relations and emotional well-being important to student learning?
  4. Context and learning: How can the classroom best be managed?
  5. Assessment: How can teachers assess student progress?

I consider the APA to be the highest authority of educational psychology in the U.S. and a positive influence in the education world in general. Education is about looking both into the past and into the future, which is why it also has two opposite purposes: to ensure cultural progression and to prepare students for their unknown future.

Cultural progression is necessary for societies to have members who will know about the past (history) and the traditions (culture), but emphasizing the traditional ways of doing things may cause difficulties for students to learn for the future. Yet, not knowing the history could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past generations. For anyone engaging in instruction this is just one of the many dichotomies of the teaching-learning situation. Finding balance is important because both past and future are necessary in understanding the process.

Modern educational theory and practice are built on the premise of education being the process for students to “develop their rational faculties so that they become capable of independent judgement”. This requires for students to engage in three-dimensional learning process and grow their skills, knowledge and understanding. The role of instructor is to support this growth.

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If you reside in the Europe, then Waterstones or AmazonUK  might be a better choice.  Suomessa ja muissa Pohjoismaissa myos  Adlibris on vaihtoehto.