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CELTA Preparation: What is Learner Centredness in Teaching?

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Preparing for the CELTA with ELTCampus

Preparing to take the CELTA? Then you'll need to know about Learner Centredness

In this article, we'll have a look at this key concept that you need to understand as part of your CELTA preparation. We'll also have a look at and some of the difficulties in applying it in English language classroom.

Learner Centredness is an alternative to the traditional approaches where the teacher is the centre of the classroom. Traditional approaches like these have often been seen as authoritarian, hierarchical and lacking democracy or agency for learners.

In the CELTA course, you will need to consider when we as teachers should promote a learner-centred approach as opposed to a more teacher-centred one. Should we ignore the cultural values and frameworks of other countries and impose this "Western" teaching approach? Who are we to do that? Or should we challenge it? What way is best?

What is Learner Centredness in an English Language Classroom

Think back to your own learning experiences (this is always good reflection for your CELTA preparation). Where was the focus? Can you see the teacher? Was the teacher doing all the talking? How much did you get involved? Chances are that the teacher was a strong focus in the classroom. On a CELTA course, Learner Centredness as a teaching principle is practised. It's the principle where we move the learner to the focus of the learning process rather than the teacher. It’s a good idea as part of your CELTA preparation to at least recognise what it is, and what it isn't. Once you are on the CELTA course itself, you’ll be ready to apply it in your own observed teaching. Let's take a look.

Transcript of Video Presentation

Learner Centredness is essentially the principle where we move the learner to the focus of the learning process rather than the teacher. After all, they are why we have a job and why we do
what we do.

As such, the focus then becomes the learners’ learning, rather than the teacher’s teaching. The process of learning and what the learner does in the classroom is emphasised rather than teaching techniques and teacher activity. There has been a marked shift towards learner centredness in education in most sectors and embraces a whole range of:

  • Philosophies: e.g. discovery learning, activity based learning
  • Approaches: e.g. Task Based Learning, Communicative
  • Language Teaching Classroom Techniques: e.g. eliciting, pair work, jigsaw readings/listenings

Why is Learner Centredness Important in English Language Learning?

Researchers and practioners believe that learner-centred instruction:

  • maximizes learners’ participation and engagement levels,
  • provides learners with more personalised and therefore more meaningful learning experiences,
  • allows learners to be more involved in and take more control of their own learning processes
  • creates more memorable learning experiences, and facilitates autonomy (independence) outside the classroom

Learner Centredness also embraces the idea of using learners’ existing knowledge and skills as the basis for deciding on what actually needs to be taught. Needs Analysis is talked about in our CELTA preparation course here on ELTcampus.

What does Learner Centredness Feel Like?

Just yesterday, I found myself on the other side of the teacher-learner dynamic. I was attending a session for parents. The room was set out in a typical way that you'll get used to in an English language school that has smaller classes (Bigger classes will require another article!): the chairs were set out in a semi-circle facing the IWB (Interactive White Board). I could sense that we were going to be participating a lot.

It was the first time that we had met. We were parents, and that was the ONLY thing some of us had in common. I felt quite exposed and threatened and would have loved to be able to sit behind a desk and not face other people. I didn't know these people. There were awkward silences and I didn't feel like speaking to the whole group and didn't for the first hour (Me! A conference presenter!).

It became apparent how important the issue of getting to know people was for beginning a group. The style of the session was very "learner-centred" and aimed to get us sharing and communicating. However we were thrown questions right from the beginning. We were expected to express ourselves, react and participate almost immediately, which was too much pressure. How were we going to participate if we weren't feeling safe and secure? We were feeling wary of the each other - of our perceived social and cultural differences. Could we develop trust? Were we going to relate to each other?

This awareness of people and group dynamic is a skill all teachers develop. It becomes part of their powers of noticing, which I talk about a lot. See articles:

Noticing: Discussion with Jim Scrivener
Article: The Power of Noticing
Noticing: Discussion with Jeremy Harmer

Our Learners Have Their Objectives, Which Often Don't Include Other People's Learning

When we join a class, we mostly focus on what our personal needs are. We may need to pass an exam. We may need to get this English certificate for a job. Often, we aren't aware of our role in helping others in our classroom and being helped by them. I'm talking about learner to learner support and understanding.

Not everyone in our class is concerned about this. Some of our students will be coming from highly competitive environments where everyone needs to look out for themselves. Many people aren't good listeners or want to waste their precious energy on helping others or even getting to know them. All this affects our perception of what Learner Centredness is and what we do in the classroom as a result.

So, if a student's need is to pass an exam, isn't our responsibility to meet that need, and that need alone? Why are we imposing extra "needs" that we perceive as good and necessary, such as learning how to be more empathetic towards other learners and collaborate with their possibly weaker classmates? Should empathy and supporting each other be part of the learning objective?

What is the Best Approach with Learner Centredness?

In response to this, I would argue a "softly, softly" approach. We need to put learning at the centre of our considerations and think about what promotes the deepest version of that for everyone in our classroom. What is the most effective situation for learning in a given moment of my classroom with a given group of learners?

Everyone wants achieve what they've come to class for. Perhaps your version of Learner Centredness is going to actually block some learners from progressing. On the other hand, perhaps you decide that certain learner-to-learner strategies will be effective for learning for the majority of the class.

If you decide this after good analysis of your students, the class will go through a process of learner awareness raising, empathy, rapport and trust building. A classroom is like any social group, and this process is necessary before those strategies will actually be productive. This will happen also for classes that are already established and YOU are the new person! There will still be a process of change management. All of it requires deep observation and noticing. Grasping these concepts is key for CELTA preparation and for your on going journey in English language teaching.

CELTA Preparation: Some of the content of this article contains content that you'll find in the TEFL Preparation Course from ELTCampus.

The TEFL Preparation Course is especially designed to help trainees in their CELTA preparation.

In the course we cover the key concepts and principles of English language learning that are dealt with in depth in the training courses themselves. Apart from Learner Centredness, some of the other core principles that we cover in the course are Learner Needs and Analysis, Language Clarification, Language Practice and Lesson Planning.

The aim is that you start your training feeling confident and familiar with the concepts so you can apply them in your in-course learning, teaching and lesson planning.


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