Krishna Bista, krishna.Bista@gmail.com
This essay reviews the major features of learning-centered English Language Teaching (ELT), also known as English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs at the selected colleges in the U.S. In the context of Nepalese ELT, the author suggests the possibility of developing learning-centered ELT programs applying the features of American English programs where instructors highlight learning environment, goals, performance and feedback, and rubrics.
What is a Learning-Centered College?
The learning college puts students’ learning first. Every single activity, program or decision carried out in a learning college is focused on learning. The learning college offers educational programs and experiences available for learners based on individual need. The learning college explores the full potential of learners, and provides them with support systems to meet their goals. The model is based on the assumption that educational experiences are designed for the convenience of learners rather than for the convenience of institutions and their staff. Boggs (1999, p. 9) identified four tenets of the learning paradigm that support a learning centered college concept:
- The mission of colleges and universities should be student learning rather than teaching or instruction.
- Institutions should accept responsibility for student learning.
- Supporting and promoting student learning should be everyone’s job and should guide institutional decisions.
- Institutions should judge their effectiveness and be evaluated on student learning outcomes rather than on resources or processes.
Instructor-Centered Teaching versus Learning-Centered Teaching
Teacher- centered teaching is focused on the process of teaching and less concerned with what is learned or how it is learned. In teacher centered teaching, according to Wagner and McCombs (1995, p.32), “teachers decide for the learners what is required from outside by defining characteristics of instruction, curriculum, assessment, and management to achieve desired learning outcomes.”
In contrast, the learning-centered teaching focuses on student learning. This model emphasizes a variety of teaching methods in which the teachers facilitate student learning. It can be problem-based learning and focused on creating an effective learning environment so that students achieve at high levels of learning, and teachers offer more feedback on student work. In this approach, students become active participants in the learning process. The learning college, according to O’Banion (1997, p. 47), “engages learners as full partners in the learning process, with learners assuming primary responsibility for their own choices.”
How to Create a Learning-Centered ELT Program?
This section examines learning oriented materials and activities are used in the ELT classroom. If the learners are given the opportunities to be responsible for their learning according to their needs and choices, the learning would be more fruitful and students would be responsible for their own learning.
A Learning-Centered ELT Classroom
In ELT, classroom setting plays a crucial role in addressing issues of diverse students. Classroom environment has a great impact on learning. Students learn better when they are in brain-friendly classrooms. Students feel actively engaged and motivated if they are in an open classroom setting. The more materials that are displayed in the class, the better the classroom outcomes. One of the examples of the learning-centered classroom is seen in the English as Second Language teaching classroom at Tompkins Cortland Community College in New York. The language class is structured in such a way that the physical environment stimulates learning emotionally, socially and physically. Wide windows, circular furniture and live plants in the classroom improve the physical aspect of the ESL/ELT classroom.
There is not enough interaction between students and faculty on learning models in ELT departments. Instructors should be familiar with updated pedagogies concerning teaching diverse students. Interaction, meetings, seminars and peer teaching would strengthen the concept of learning-centered model in colleges. When teachers are friendly, cooperative and collaborative in their teaching, they can seek innovative and effective ways to apply learning based principles in their classes.
Prince George’s Community College is an example of a learning college and has launched a program called “PGCC Faculty Members Model for Excellence” to improve courses and revise curricula in their academic divisions and departments (“PGCC faculty,” n.d.) Faculty participated in workshops, conferences, read journals on teaching, used appropriate technology and fostered student success.
Learning Technology in the Classroom
Internet and computers should be the cornerstones in English learning programs. Technology based activities help motivate learners and increase critical thinking. In ELT courses, learners actively participate in classroom learning when they are asked to use software applications for listening, reading, writing and speaking activities. Students can develop sound files by using multimedia software. Various Internet websites and online learning forums create a community of collaborative work for both teachers and students. Language emersion and user-friendly translation programs are a must for ELT students.
Software based-learning helps these students work on their fossilized language errors and learn grammatical aspects of a new language. For example, students in the NLII Project at Arizona State University used audio, video, simulation and technology-based presentations in the classroom as a part of the learning activities to help these special students (“Mapping the learning space” n.d.).
Syllabus and Rubrics
The ELT syllabus should include materials related to learners’ background, nationality, work place, language, and culture. Lessons that integrate multiple areas related to the student would increase student participation and create fruitful learning environments. Syllabi that include integrated activities place the course emphasis back on the learner.
Rubrics in ELT courses should be clearly written in order to provide feedback to the learner to promote student growth. King’s college and Inver Hill College, for example, have focused on rubrics in their ESL curricula. Many students do not get helpful feedback that they can use to improve their language skills.
Learning Communities for Students
Where can a student practice English? Is classroom interaction enough practice for students to learn another language which is not their native tongue? Do our ELT programs combine language learning theory and actual practice? How can we make second-language learning a lifelong experience? Many colleges have developed learning communities across academic disciplines and outside the college. In American colleges and universities, programs such as Home Stay, Happy Families, and Community Outreach are available for English language students. In Nepal, schools and colleges can request native English speakers who come to visit Nepal as volunteers or scholars from Fulbright programs so that students would get opportunities to interact with native speakers. The main goal of learning communities is to offer student active engagement and reflection. For example, the learning communities at Kingsborough Community College in New York began in 1995 with the Intensive ELT program (“Learning communities at Kingsborough,” n.d.).
Rewarding Goals and Motivation
ELT programs should make the connection between the classroom materials and the outside classroom activities, which may support intrinsic motivation. At Olivet College, for example, every incoming student affirms a commitment as “I am responsible for…my own learning and personal development… “(Tagg, 2003, p. 137). It is important to understand the goals of the students who join the ELT program. Program goals should support student goals and not just be a cash cow project for universities.
In ELT programs, the instructors should develop an active curriculum with extracurricular activities to emphasize student’s performance. Language learning should be collaborative, service-based and practical. Alvrno College’s curriculum, for example, has included eight abilities—communication, analysis, problem solving, decision making, social interaction, global perspectives, effective citizenship and aesthetic responses (“English as Second Language,” n.d.)
ELT teachers in Nepal can make their classes and materials student-oriented to engage learners while teaching English. Without changing the traditional structure of the college, the teacher can make some changes in his or her classroom the way I have observed in English language classes at American colleges. The debate of the instruction versus learning paradigm, even in American higher education, is not over because of a number of barriers in the implementation of the learner-centered approach. Yet pieces of the learner-centered college can be put immediately in place, and instructors, who have access to the learning resources and skills to modify the culture of learning, can implement learning-centered activities to help their learners in ELT and other academic programs thrive. ELT instructors should change their hearts and minds to bring a culture of learning-centered program. In traditional context of Nepal, teachers should be “the change” to cultivate a new learning environment in their colleges.
Boggs, G. R. (1999). What the learning paradigm means for faculty. Learning Abstracts 2(4).
Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate
education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Education. 27 (6), 13-25.
English as Second Language (n.d.). Alvrno College. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2010 from
Learning communities at Kingsborough. Kingsborough Community College. Retrieved on
Nov. 20, 2010 from http://www.kbcc.cuny.edu/faculty/learning_communities/
Mapping the learning space: Technology uses in teaching and learning (n.d.). National
Learning Infrastructure Initiatives, Arizona State University. Retrieved Nov. 5, 2010 from http://west.asu.edu/nlii/technology.html
O’Banion, T. (1997). A learning college for the 21st century. Washington, DC: American
Association of Community Colleges and American Council on Education Series on Higher Education and the Oryx Press.
O’Banion, T. (1997). Creating more learning-centered community colleges. Phoenix, AZ:
League for Innovation in the Community College.
PGCC faculty members model for excellence (n.d.). Prince George’s Community College.
Retrieved Nov. 4, 2010 from
Tagg, J. (2003). The learning paradigm college. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.
Wagner, E. B., & McCombs, B. L. (1995). Learner centered psychological principles in practice:
Design for distance education. Educational Technology, 35(2), 32-35.