The Learner-Centered Psychological Principles
Excerpt from Assessing the Role of Educational Technology in the Teaching and Learning Process: A Learner-Centered Perspective by Barbara L. McCombs, University of Denver Research Institute, in Secretary's Conference on Educational Technology 2000 [http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/techconf00/mccombs_paper.html]

Beginning in 1990, the American Psychological Association (APA) appointed a special Task Force on Psychology in Education, one of whose purposes was to integrate research and theory from psychology and education in order to surface general principles that have stood the test of time and can provide a framework for school redesign and reform. The result was a document that originally specified twelve fundamental principles about learners and learning that, taken together, provide an integrated perspective on factors influencing learning for all learners (APA, 1993). This document was revised in 1997 (APA, 1997) and now includes 14 principles that are essentially the same as the original 12 principles with the exception that attention is now given to principles dealing with diversity and standards. [Note to readers: For those interested in research support for the Principles, several sources are relevant. The specific research and theory that was reviewed in developing the Principles is described in McCombs and Whisler (1997). Further research support is also provided in Alexander and Murphy (1998) and Lambert and McCombs (1998)].

The 14 learner-centered principles are categorized into four domains as shown in Table 1. These categories group the principles into research-validated domains important to learning: metacognitive and cognitive factors, affective and motivational factors, developmental and social factors, and individual difference factors. An understanding of these domains and the principles within them establishes a framework for designing learner-centered practices at all levels of schooling. It also helps define what "learner-centered" means from a research-validated perspective.

Defining "Learner-Centered"

From an integrated and holistic look at the Principles, the following definition emerges:

"Learner centered" is the perspective that couples a focus on individual learners - their heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs - with a focus on leaning - the best available knowledge about learning and how it occurs and about teaching practices that are most effective in promoting the highest levels of motivation, learning, and achievement for all learners. This dual focus then informs and drives educational decision making. Learner-centered is a reflection in practice of the Learner-Centered Psychological Principles - in the programs, practices, policies, and people that support learning for all.

This definition of learner-centered is thus based on an understanding of the Learner-Centered Psychological Principles as a representation of the current knowledge base on learners and learning. The Principles apply to all learners, in and outside of school, young and old. Learner-centered is also related to the beliefs, characteristics, dispositions, and practices of teachers - practices primarily created by the teacher. When teachers and their practices function from an understanding of the knowledge base delineated in the Principles, they (a) include learners in decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed; (b) value each learner's unique perspectives; (c) respect and accommodate individual differences in learners' backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences; and (d) treat learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process.

Table 1: The Learner-Centered Psychological Principles

COGNITIVE AND METACOGNITIVE FACTORS

Principle 1: Nature of the learning process.
The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.

Principle 2: Goals of the learning process.
The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.

Principle 3: Construction of knowledge.
The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.

Principle 4: Strategic thinking
The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.

Principle 5: Thinking about thinking
Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.

Principle 6: Context of learning
Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.

MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE FACTORS

Principle 7: Motivational and emotional influences on learning
What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner's motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual's emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.

Principle 8: Intrinsic motivation to learn
The learner's creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn.

Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.

Principle 9: Effects of motivation on effort
Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners' motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS

Principle 10: Developmental influence on learning
As individuals develop, they encounter different opportunities and experience different constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.

Principle 11: Social influences on learning
Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FACTORS

Principle 12: Individual differences in learning
Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.

Principle 13: Learning and diversity
Learning is most effective when differences in learners' linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.

Principle 14: Standards and assessment
Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner and learning progress-including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment-are integral parts of the learning process.

Summarized from the APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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