The Learner Centered Approach Education Essay

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Since ancient times, a drive towards an ideal learning process has been the subject of study for psychologists, philosophers and educators. This investigative research has put forward various modern methodologies used in classroom. Through this quest, the pedagogical practices have moved from a teacher centered approach to the more engaging learner centered approach, whereby learners are regarded as stakeholders in their learning process. They are expected to be active participants and responsible decision makers in the teaching -learning dynamics. The learner centered approach promotes the idea that students should have greater input into what they learn and how they learn it. This is expected to make learning more valuable and relevant to the learners. More importantly, it is expected to make learners autonomous. However, there is no real learner's autonomy because every decision regarding the design of the curriculum to the selection of activities chosen is hand-picked by the teacher (Lynch, 2010).

Learner's Autonomy

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The concatenation towards a learner-centered approach has resulted in the concept of learner's autonomy. Learners are considered autonomous when they are self-directed and take responsibility of their own learning. The main proponent of learner's autonomy, Holec (as cited in Thanasoulas, 2000) defines it as 'the ability to take charge of one's learning (n.p). For the learner to be proactive and self initiator of his learning, he needs to be imbibed by certain characteristics.

Autonomous learners are insightful of their individual learning preferences in terms of styles and strategies.

They are self activated participants in the learning process.

They are risk takers and resort to the use of target language in the learning process.

They incorporate intelligent guesswork in learning.

They emphasize accuracy as well as appropriacy; and therefore give simultaneous attention to form and content.

They analyze and negotiate rules to reject inapplicable hypotheses and proceed through the target language by placing it into a separate reference system.

They are extroverts and have a forward looking and tolerant approach to target language learning. (Thanasoulas, 2000)

Theoretical Underpinnings

Learners' autonomy and learner-centered approach take their foundational principles from the educational philosophy of constructivism. Constructivism advocates that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own (Slavin, 2010). According to Candy (as cited in Thanasoulas, 2000) constructivism "'leads directly to the proposition that knowledge cannot be taught but only learned" (n.p). The chief premise of constructivism is that learners learn by doing through personalizing and internalizing the subject matter. In this way, learning is seen as subjective and learners are seen as the chief architects of their learning (Lynch, 2010).

Constructivism was shaped by the works of Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey among others. Both Piaget and Vygotsky argue that cognitive change takes place only when previous conceptions go through a process of disequilibration in light of new information. Piaget believes in giving problems to learners that encourage them to manipulate concrete objects. In such a problem based learning, learners build upon their prior assumptions and arrive at solutions to the problems (Henson, 2003).

Vygotsky's social constructivism introduced the concept of cooperative learning whereby he concludes that knowledge can not be constructed in isolation and therefore, needs learners to cooperate among themselves to work towards knowledge construction (Henson, 2003).

Taking the idea further, Dewey's view of learner-centered education embraced the idea that education should be both problem-based and fun. Each experience should leave the learner motivated and the solving of each problem must lead to new, related questions about the topic (Henson, 2003). Dewey advocated letting learners experience their learning first hand to enable them to value their learning as subjective and relevant to them (Lynch, 2010).

Dewey also stressed upon the idea of confluent or collateral learning, which emphasizes the involvement of learners' emotions or affective aspect in how they learn. This marks the shift of focus from the cognitive aspect only which deals with how the mind actually functions, how it processes information or is affected by each individual's perceptions (Reid, 1987) to the affective factor that takes into consideration the emotional filter within a learner as well. The idea comes from the acknowledgement that every learner is distinct in mental and emotional makeup, interests and goals, learning pace, learning style, talent, feeling of efficacy and frames of reference. To make the learning process independent, efficient and effective for the learner, these factors must be considered worthy of attention when designing learning activities (Henson, 2003). Similarly, the learner on his part needs to be aware of his LS based on his mental and emotional system to be able to become an autonomous learner.

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This marks a departure from the uniformity of practice in institutions where learners are taken as a whole without regard for their diversity. Researchers now agree that it is futile to search for the single best way to achieve a broad educational outcome, in large part because learners do not fit a single mould (Guild, 2011).

Learning Styles & Their Classifications

In "Accounting for Learning Styles" (2009) Dunn and Griggs define LS as, "The way students begin to concentrate on, process, internalize, and remember new and difficult academic information." (p. 1). Dunn and Dunn define learning styles as "A term that describes the variations among learners in using one or more senses to understand, organize, and retain experience" (Tabanlioglu, 2003). Various learning styles have been proposed by various researchers.

Myers -Briggs type indicator. One such classification is by Myers -Briggs (1943) who developed their Personality Type Indicator for studying how people function according to their attitude towards life. It later came to be used in education, since personality type is an indicator of how one learns (Cohen, 2006).

In their polar opposite sets of four personality types, there is dichotomous pairing of introverts and extroverts. Introverts are solitude driven and introspective, while extroverts are social and externally inclined. Introverts deal with abstract concepts while extroverts are action oriented (Cohen, 2008).

Sensing personality type prefer literal and chronological presentation of information. They rely on the use of five senses in how they learn (Cohen, 2008). Conversely, intuitors predominantly use the sixth sense to work through problems (Din, 2006). They are more interested in the possibilities, implications and interconnectedness of ideas and facts (Cohen, 2008).

Within the pair of thinking vs feeling, the thinking learners make decisions objectively without letting an interference of emotions (Din, 2006). On the contrary, feeling learners' decisions are guided by their subjective and personally held values (Cohen, 2008).

Finally, there is the dichotomy between judging and perceiving. Judging learners are driven by planning and meeting deadlines (Cohen, 2008). Self-directed as they are, judging learners take a careful analysis of things before initiating a task, but take ownership of their decisions Perceptive learners are more spontaneous and adaptive, but do not value deadlines. They like to modify tasks to make them flexible for themselves (Din, 2006).

Dunn & Dunn's LS model. In "Accounting for Learning Styles" (2009) Dunn & Dunn's model is explained, in which learners are characterized according to their strengths. Individual instructional preferences arise out of an awareness of those strengths. Developed in 1967, this model judges learners according to how they react to 21 elements arranged within five broad categories, namely; environmental, emotional, sociological, physiological and psychological. Learners have different preferences in each category, based upon which their performance can vary.

Felder and Silverman LS model. In 1987, Felder created an assessment model, better known as the Felder and Silverman model, to study the learning preferences of learners. Based upon this assessment, they categorized learners into four dichotomous pairs. According to them, learners can be grouped as active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global.

Active learners activate themselves to acquire new information. Such learners prefer discussion and application of knowledge within group work. Reflectors, on the other hand, prefer to interact individually with the information. Reflective processing involves examining and manipulating the information introspectively (Felder & Solomon, 2012).

Sensors tend to be concrete and methodical, whereas intuitors are abstract and imaginative. Sensing and intuitive learners prefer discovery based learning, in which they like exploring possibilities and relationships. They like solving problems, but sensors like experimentation, while intuitors prefer to deal with underlying concepts. Sensors like surprises, while intuitors prefer innovation and repetition bores them. Both are practical, but intuitors are faster in grasping details (Felder & Solomon, 2012).

As the name suggests, visual learners learn best through visualizing content. On the contrary, verbal learners learn through words. Hence, information is processed more effectively and efficiently when presented visually for visual learners and verbally for verbal learners (Felder & Solomon, 2012).

Sequential learners are more methodical and linear in their approach to learning. They connect newly acquired information to previously known information and proceed in logical steps of knowledge construction. On the other hand, global learners tend to absorb content in fragments, without arranging it in their minds. They solve problems but find it hard to explain how they arrived at the conclusion (Felder & Solomon, 2012).

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Gregorc's mind styles. Gregorc (1985) developed a mind styles' inventory that categorizes learners in four patterns of learning. Concrete sequential learners learn through logical sequencing and factual arrangement of information (Putintseva, 2006). They rely on structured learning and practicality and look to find clear answers without any abstraction (Din, 2009). Abstract random learners are more harmonious with abstract, conceptual thinking and work well in groups. Their learning comes from personalizing knowledge. They prefer a sensitive and flexible environment with broad instructions and are not open to critical feedback. On the other hand, abstract sequential learners are more analytical and like to work alone. Decision making and eventual application of ideas comes much after analysis in a challenging environment. They find it hard to follow too many rules and regulations within a task (Putintseva, 2006). Their approach is theoretical and analytical (Din, 2009). The concrete random learners are independent and creative (Din, 2009). These learners take risks and use their intuitive abilities in solving problems. They are competitive and believe in a trial and error approach to solve problems without any formal restrictions and limitations (Putintseva, 2006).

Kolb's experiential learning cycle & LS model. The most important classification of LS comes from David Kolb (1984), who based his model on the experiential learning theory. The model thrives on the concept of learners' practical experiences forming the backbone of learning. Kolb (as cited in Din, 2009) defines experiential learning as, "The process of creating and transforming experience into knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses. It is the process through which individuals become themselves" (p.49).

Kolb's work on experiential learning has its roots in the work of Dewey, Lewin and Piaget. Dewey argues that learners' uniqueness as a result of their prior experiences should be acknowledged in their learning process. Dewey (as cited in Din, 2009) refers to learning "from, through and to the experience" (p.68). He proposes the process of concrete experience, observation and reflection, formation of abstract concepts and generalization, and testing implications of concepts in new situation (Din, 2009).

Kurt Lewin, organizes elements within his model in the sequence of apprehension concrete experience, observation and reflection, abstract concepts and generalization and testing implementations of concepts (Din, 2009).

Piaget propounds that learners' acts of intelligence are biologically time tabled. The concept of cognitive structure is central to his theory, which explains how experiences shape intelligence. He elaborates this through four developmental stages in a learner, namely, the sensory motor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage. Sensory motor is a self-centered stage from birth to two years of age. This is followed by the cognitive intuitive stage called the preoperational stage. This lasts from three to seven years of age followed by the concrete operational stage up to twelve years of age. In this stage, logical approach is developed in learners. In the formal operational stage, learners develop higher order skills and think deeply to conserve knowledge (Din, 2009).

Kolb (as cited in Din, 2009) defines learning through experiential cycle as, "The process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience" (p.50).

He represents four stages in his famous experiential learning circle.  This cyclical experiential learning model is learner focused and emphasizes the process of learning instead of the outcome (Din, 2009).

Kolb believes concrete experience as the most likely point of initiation within this cycle of learning. Concrete experience advocates the underlying idea of learning through experiencing acquisition in a situational context. Next stage is reflective observation where the learner detaches himself from active engagement and takes an objective stock of the process and its outcome. Abstract conceptualization is a deeper, theoretical analysis of ideas. It is the intellectual processing of knowledge. Active experimentation is the eventual outcome of this cycle where the learner is expected to make use of the refined knowledge acquired and understood through the three step process and to be able to use it in novel situations. This is the stage that tests the understanding of the learner through application (Mobbs, n.d).

Learning occurs when the dimensions in Kolb's experiential learning cycle are used in combination. Based upon these combinations, Kolb identifies learners as divergers, assimilators, convergers and accommodators.

Divergers use a combination of concrete experience and reflective observation (Din, 2009). They are sensitive and have the ability to look at situations from different perspectives. They are imaginative, emotionally driven and receptive to feedback. Their understanding is shaped by their feelings and observations (Putintseva, 2006).They get their name from the fact that they learn well in situations that require them to generate broad range of ideas (Seca & Santiago, 2003)

The assimilators prefer a more logical approach in which conceptual understanding is of prime importance. They combine the use of abstract conceptualization & reflective observation (Din, 2009). They do not grasp information holistically, but arrange it in logical, mental constructs. (Putintseva, 2006). They judge ideas for their theoretical value and not for their practicality (Seca & Santiago, 2003).

The combination of abstract conceptualization and active experimentation gives birth to converging style of learning (Din, 2009). The covergers get their name from the fact that their learning is optimized when they have to converge at one answer to a problem. Convergers learn through a problem solving approach and find solutions to problems. They engage with technicalities and are sound decision makers. Polar opposite of the divergers, learners with a converging style experiment with new ideas and to work with practical applications.

On the other hand, accommodators rely on intuition and have an experiential approach to learning. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences. However, their experiential approach is more discovery based and the result of intuition rather than logical thinking. (Putintseva, 2006).

Honey & Mumford's LS model. Although Felder and Silverman model and Gregorc's mind styles came soon after Kolb's model and seem evidently inspired by it, no other model is as similar to Kolb's model as Honey and Mumford's LS classification. Honey and Mumford (1986) have based their LS classification on Kolb's Experiential Learning Model and admit that there are far more similarities between the two than differences. Honey and Mumford (1986) developed their inventory of four learning styles, namely 'Activist' 'Reflector', 'Theorist' and 'Pragmatist'.

Activists are experience driven and their enthusiasm pushes them to take immediate risks. Their learning comes from actively engaging in the experience. They tend to act first and consider the consequences of their actions later.

Reflectors take a cautious approach and ponder analytically over ideas and experiences (Seca & Santiago, 2003). They listen and observe to master the issue and do not participate till they have done so. Being assimilating learners, their learning is enhanced in situations that allow them to reflect and then make decisions (Din, 2009).

Theorists are objective learners who take stock of an idea, information or experience and try to mould them into their own theoretical models. They are deep thinkers and try to relate concepts and ideas. For them sound organization of knowledge matters the most (Din, 2009). Their rational approach leads them to analyze and synthesize information (Seca & Santiago, 2003)

Finally, learning is fruitful to pragmatists only if they can feel its practical utility in their life outside the classroom. They are not merely concerned with the practicality of an experience, but are equally interested in its impact. This is what makes them open and receptive to constructive feedback. They fossilize newly learnt information through immediate application (Din, 2009). Their decision making is based on practicality of an idea (Seca & Santiago, 2003).

Apart from Honey & Mumford's own admission of generating their learning styles from Kolb's model, other theorists and researchers have also studied and related the two. Seca and Santiago (2003) found significant correlation between Honey and Mumford's reflector and Kolb's reflective observation, Honey and Mumford's pragmatist and Kolb's active experimentation and Honey and Mumford's theorist and Kolb's abstract conceptualization. Based upon the fact that Kolb's learning styles emerge out of a combination of traits within his experiential cycle, a stage wise break up of Kolb's learning cycle that generate relationship between Kolb's LS and Honey and Mumford's LS is shown.

Relationship between Kolb's and Honey & Mumford's Learning Styles

Stage in Kolb's

Experiential Learning Cycle

Dimensions in Kolb's

Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb's Learning

Styles

Honey & Mumford's Learning Styles

Stage 1

Concrete Experience

Accomodating

Activist

Stage 2

Reflective Observation

Diverging

Reflector

Stage 3

Abstract Conceptualization

Assimilating

Theorist

Stage 4

Active Experimentation

Converging

Pragmatist

Language Learning Strategies & Their Classifications

On the other hand, learners use language learning strategies either consciously or unconsciously in processing new information to grasp, understand and retain concepts. Wenden and Rubin (as cited in Hismanoglu, 2000) define learning strategies as "... any sets of operations, steps, plans, routines used by the learner to facilitate the obtaining, storage, retrieval, and use of information" (n.p). Meyer (as cited in Clouston, 1997) defines LLS as "behaviours of a learner that are intended to influence how the learner processes information" (n.p). Cohen (as cited in Shabani and Sarem, n.d) defines LLS as "the conscious thoughts and behaviors used by learners with explicit goal of improving their knowledge of a target language" (p.3). One of the most widely accepted definition comes from Oxford (as cited in Zare, 2012) who looks at LLS as "specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations" (p. 164). In view of the definitions above, LLS can be understood as individual ways of processing information that aid comprehension, learning or retention of the information.

Most of the work on LLS took place in the 80s and 90s. When it comes to classifying LLS, many taxonomies exist. However, a chronological review of the four most widely known classifications is discussed.

O' Malley's classification of LLS. O' Malley (1985) divides language learning strategies into three main subcategories, namely, metacognitive strategies, cognitive strategies and socioaffective strategies. Metacognitive strategies are related to the planning of the task before initiation, self monitoring of the process and post task analysis. Cognitive strategies require the learner to be more directly and actively involved in the manipulation of the learning material. It includes note-taking, translating, contexualizing and inferencing to acquire knowledge. Socioaffective strategies involve social engagement for the sake of transaction of information to learn (Hismanoglu, 2000).

Rubin's classification of LLS. Rubins (1987) came up with a distinction between direct and indirect strategies, later refined by Oxford. His classification includes learning strategies, communication strategies, and social strategies, which are thought to contribute directly or indirectly to the learning process. Learning strategies branch out into cognitive learning strategies and metacognitive learning strategies. These strategies look to manipulate the material through direct analysis and/or synthesis. It can include techniques such as clarification, inductive inferencing, deductive reasoning, practice, memorization or monitoring. Communication strategies, on the other hand, aid in bridging the gap in communication that may lead to a communication break down. It can be used for clarification, asking questions and to remain a part of the conversation while learning (Zare, 2012).

Oxford's classification of LLS. The most comprehensive classification of LLS to date comes from Oxford (1990), who has refined and structured her predecessors' work by making a taxonomy based on six sub-classifications within two broad categories. Direct LLS are divided into memory, cognitive and compensation strategies, while indirect LLS include metacognitive, affective and social strategies. Oxford (as cited in Zare, 2012) clarifies the difference between the two as, "all direct strategies require mental processing of the language" while all "indirect strategies provide indirect support for language learning" (p. 165).

Within direct strategies, memory strategies enable learners to learn and retrieve information in an orderly string as through acronyms, while other techniques create learning and retrieval through images, as in creating a mental picture, or through sounds, such as rhyming, or a combination of both, as using keywords to remember and retain the information. There can be use of other stimuli like mechanically, through flashcards or by using location, such as on a page or board or through body movements, as through total physical response.

The second type of direct strategies are the cognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies enable the learner to use such methods as reasoning, analysis, note-taking, summarizing, synthesizing, reorganizing information to create knowledge structures, and practicing structures and sounds formally to manipulate the language material in direct ways. They are meant to create structures for input and output.

Compensation strategies, the third type of direct strategies, employ tactics such as guessing, using synonyms and fillers or using gestures to help make up for gaps within communicative knowledge. They are more in use for averting language break down and not strictly language learning strategies.

Among the indirect strategies, metacognitive strategies indirectly manipulate learning by the use of identifying one's own learning style preferences and planning accordingly. It includes gathering and organizing materials, arranging a study space and a schedule, monitoring mistakes, and evaluating task success, managing the learning process.

Affective strategies, the second type of indirect strategies, are strategies to exert control over one's level of anxiety, mood, feelings, reception of material and the learning process. They are meant to control learners' attitude while they engage with their learning.

Finally, the third type of indirect strategies known as social strategies, are related to the inevitable need for communication with others within a task. They help the learner move forward in an informed way by asking questions for clarification or verification. Moreover, they can ask for help and while doing so, unconsciously assimilate the target cultural norms (Oxford, 2003).

Stern's classification of LLS. Stern (1992) grouped LLS into five classes: management and planning strategies, cognitive strategies, communicative-experiential strategies, interpersonal strategies and affective strategies.

Management and planning strategies are associated with empowering the learners to control their own learning. The learners can committ themselves to language learning; set themselves reasonable goals; select an appropriate methodology, choose relevant resources, and monitor progress. Moreover, they need to evaluate and match their level of achievement with the determined goals and expectations.

Cognitive strategies refer to procedures and activities which learners use for improvement in their learning and retaining ability. They also enable learners to solve problems, especially those actions which learners use with specific classroom tasks. When using cognitive strategies, the learners can guess, clarify, verify, practice, memorize or monitor their learning.

To avoid interruption within the communicative interaction, learners use techniques such as circumlocution, gesturing, paraphrasing, asking for repetition and explanation. These techniques form part of the strategies known as communicative strategies.

Interpersonal strategies monitor learners' development and progress. Familiarity with target culture is achieved through the use of these strategies, without which language acquisition remains incomplete.

Affective strategies have an inevitable role in language learning. Feeling of unfamiliarity with a foreign language can lead to varying emotions, attitude and motivation within learners. To remain emotionally focused and motivated can be achieved through the use of affective strategies (Zare, 2012).

Language Learning Strategies Used at the Graduate Level

Learners at the graduate level have their own characteristics. They are willing to explore their preferred way of learning more out of a demand for autonomy that arises due to a shift in their role as they make a transition from school to college than a conscientious effort to know their LS and use of LLS. A research carried out by Gujjar, Naoreen and Aslam (2010) studied the LLS used by graduate learners in formal and non-formal education systems in Pakistan. Based on Oxford's taxonomy of LLS, the findings of their study indicated that there was no significant difference in learners from both systems in their use of direct strategies. They indicated a similar trend in their use of memory, cognitive and compensation strategies. In terms of indirect strategies, formal learners used more social strategies in language learning. However, no significant difference was found between the students from formal and non-formal systems of education on the use of meta-cognitive and affective strategies of language learning (Gujjar et al, 2010).

Relationship Between Learning Styles & Language Learning Strategies: A Review of Previous Researches

When left on their own and if not explicitly encouraged by the teacher to use a certain set of strategies, students typically use learning strategies that reflect their basic learning styles (Oxford, 2003). This asserts the opinion by many educationists that LLS do not operate by themselves, but are tied to the learner's underlying natural tendency to learn in a particular way known as LS. It is interesting to note that many learners' selection and employment of LLS is random and unconscious. To be able to optimize efficiency in learning, learners need to be familiar with their LS to know which strategies are most appropriate to their LS and to the task at hand, since a relationship is considered to exist between the learners LS and their choice of LLS.

However, whereas there are significant researches in the area of studying the relationship between LS or LLS and certain variables, such as demographic factors, not much work is present in studying the relationship between learners' LS and LLS.

Ehrman and Oxford (1989) conducted a study regarding overall personality type as measured by Myers-Briggs Type indicator (MBTI). It was found that extroverts indicated a significantly greater use of affective strategies and visualization strategies than the introverts. However, introverts were reported to use more frequent manipulation of strategies requiring communication of meaning. Compared to sensing learners, intuitive learners used more affective, formal model - building, functional practice and searching for and communicating meaning strategies. Feeling-type learners, as compared to thinkers, displayed greater use of general study strategies. Perceivers made use of more strategies for searching for and communicating meaning than the judgers, who demonstrated more frequent use of general study strategies than did perceivers (Tabanlioglu, 2003).

Ehrman and Oxford (1990) studied the relationship between LS and LLS through semi-structured interviews. They used MBTI-G (Myers and McCaulley, 1985) for learning styles and the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) for preferred LLS. The results showed that the preferred LLS for each pair of LS were in an appropriately matched distribution. It could be safely concluded that LS may significantly influence their choices of LLS (Shi, 2011)

Another research concerned with the relationship between LS and LLS conducted by Jie Li and Xiaoqing Qin (2006) in Chinese tertiary level learners used the Chinese version of MBTI-G and a questionnaire on the use of LLS adapted from O'Malley and Chamot's classification. Both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data revealed that LS have a significant influence on learners' selection of LLS. Moreover, it also investigated the influence of the choice of LLS upon learning outcomes (Shi, 2011). Based on the results, it was proposed that "LS may influence language learning outcomes through their relationship with learning strategies" (p.21).

The findings of these ground breaking researches indicate that a significant relationship exists between LS and LLS. However, more work needs to be done in various contexts to develop a profound insight into how LS and LLS influence each other. In higher education and particularly at the graduate level, where learners are expected to be more independent and self directed, an understanding of the relationship between LS and LLS can lead to learner's autonomy and optimization of the learning process.