Student-Centered Teaching and Learning


Individual experiences are meaningful ways to generate and impart knowledge in an educational setting. In the client- or person-centred approach, the educator or learner draws from their experiences and social interactions to enrich knowledge construction. In education, the client-centred approach focuses on deep, lifelong learning of the ‘whole person’ as opposed to merely increasing his/her knowledge in a particular discipline. Carl Rodgers (1959) writes that client-centred learning combines “cognitive skills with a better knowledge of the self and of interpersonal behaviour” (p. 73). Thus, disregarding the ‘whole person’ subverts the true goal of education.

Education is about transforming the whole person into a better individual. Traditionally, education centred on the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and attitudes. Students and instructors played distinct roles. However, in student-centred learning, life experiences play a big role in the education and development of the whole person. In the writer’s view, changing power dynamics that exist in the classroom would transform instructors and students into whole persons drawing upon their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to enrich their learning. This paper presents the writer’s views about whole person learning. It draws from various learning theories and materials that shaped the writer’s philosophy and attitudes on educating the whole person.


Person-centred Learning and Teaching

Education promotes continuous learning, which allows an individual to become a whole person. The concept behind person-centred teaching and learning relates to the human desire for growth based on personal experiential realities to achieve self-actualisation. Carl Rodgers’ (1959) theory suggests that self-actualisation is achieved under three conditions: acceptance/respect, congruence, and a deep cognitive understanding of other people’s attitudes and feelings.

Based on these conditions, an effective instructional approach should not merely focus on lecturing, but should integrate these attitudes into the students’ resourcefulness. The writer believes that educational technology can help transfer knowledge and spare more time for real interactions. Interactions can be in the form of study or discussion groups where students deliberate on various topics in a task-oriented manner. Group discussions can also allow students to learn from each other’s experiences and acquire a broader view of the topic.

Person-centred learning brings new insights and knowledge that expand the learner’s resourcefulness and understanding of meaning (Barrett-Lennard, 1998). It improves the learner’s participatory mode, promotes self-determination, fosters a climate of trust to nurture curiosity, and stimulates self-initiated discovery geared towards lifelong learning (Goldenstein, 2002).

In this view, person-centred teaching can help educators enrich individual resourcefulness through the interactions with students. In other words, client-centred learning enhances an individual’s capacity to learn from his/her own experience as well as that of others and thus, develop meaningful ways of resolving new problems (Rodgers, 1983, p. 3). It encompasses the elements of transformative education, which holds that learning processes develop through personal experience and the meanings therein (Malkki, 2010). In transformative education, people apply the knowledge acquired from individual experiences in their lives.

Client-centred learning calls for shared roles between the instructor and the student. A climate of shared responsibility nurtures new knowledge, attitudes, and creativity, which promote the quality of classroom learning. It requires the student to acquire internal flexibility or ‘freedom to learn’ to promote personal resourcefulness. Furthermore, according to Rodgers (1959), teaching that is didactic is misguided because knowledge is rapidly changing.

In light of this, an educated person is one who knows how to learn and adapt to new changes. Thus, educators play a role of facilitating experiential learning of students. Experiential learning approach entails the education that draws on the participants’ experiences (Kruse, 2009). It covers observation, critical thinking, and reflection, which help a student comprehend meaning based on her unique experiences. Thus, in the writer’s view, the aim of education is to facilitate learning from experience through observation and experimentation.

Person-centred teaching should focus on promoting the capacity of the learner to learn. This implies that educators should play a facilitative role that is responsive to the diverse learning needs of the students. Teachers should guide students through a journey of self-directed learning and not impose their will on them. The writer suggests a pedagogic approach that corresponds to the participants’ educational needs and takes into account the peculiar differences in a class. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot work because of the behavioural and attitudinal differences among students. In addition, not all contexts or situations are similar and as such, a singular approach cannot address individual and contextual differences. It also contravenes the concepts underpinning person-centred learning.

An ideal person-centred learning is an approach that is receptive and flexible to the differentiated learning styles of the students. It requires educators and learners to adopt context-specific behaviours and roles to maximise the learning outcomes. A rigid adherence to a particular learning strategy negates the principle of person-centred education (Neville, 2005). A truly person-centred teaching is one that is pegged on the learner’s needs. In this regard, teachers should ask themselves if their instructional approach is compatible with their students’ personal learning needs and multiple learning styles.

The Pedagogic Principle

Since person-centred learning aims at developing the whole person, instruction based on this principle should focus on building positive interpersonal relationships. The writer suggests that a unit taught to students should encompass discussions, self-evaluation, and interactivity. Self-evaluation would give students an opportunity for reflection and thus, develop independent thought while discussions would facilitate sharing of experiences among learners.

Face-to-face interactions enhance personal dispositions, which lead to improved educational outcomes to both students and teachers (Driscoll, 2005). Person-centred teaching also enriches a person’s learning experience, as it enables the whole person to grow in the self-actualisation process (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne & Duchesne, 2013). As a potential educator, the writer believes that helping a student through the actualising process is the central aim of person-centred teaching.

In a person-centred methodology, the teacher and student play a role in the learning process. In contrast, in the traditional methodology, they play distinct roles and thus, individual thoughts, behaviours, and feelings characteristic of whole persons are not considered (Killen, 2013). The writer holds the view that a teacher’s ‘facilitative’ role in the learning process entails creating an environment that stimulates full participation within the class. It also involves empowering learners to appreciate their thoughts and experiences as sources of knowledge. Being a facilitator, the teacher must be a person who listens and values the learners’ perspectives in a non-judgmental way. He or she should relate to the learner at a personal level to develop trust in the new pedagogic approach.

Why a Person needs to be Educated

Person-centred education develops a person’s ability to relate new information to prior knowledge and individual experiences. In this view, prior knowledge and experience help individuals to draw conclusions and understand new concepts on their own and thus, develop into ‘whole’ persons. Learning is a context-specific process of information processing, storage, and retrieval (Hattie, 2012).

Education helps a person to build on prior knowledge, concepts, and ideas and thus, develop a deeper understanding of the topic. The writer believes that knowing the conceptual interrelationships between ideas and concepts helps students gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. In addition, the associations developed depend on individual experiences at home, school, and other social contexts (Ord, 2012). The social environment has a big influence on individual experiences and learning expectations.

In the classroom, the roles and behaviour of the instructor and the student define the learner’s ability to construct and understand new knowledge. The social cognitive theory holds that “learning occurs in a social context” through a person’s interaction with “cognitive, contextual, and cognitive factors” (Bandura, 2001, p. 8). In the writer’s view, cultural contexts coupled with teacher/student roles and interactions would positively impact on how the learners relate their outside-school experience to new knowledge.

Thus, identifying the peculiarities among students can help educators to facilitate learning and achieve better educational outcomes. Besides linguistic and logical mental qualities, individuals are known to have multiple intelligences, including “inter- and intrapersonal, musical, kinaesthetic, and spatial abilities” (Slavin, 2006, p. 17) that enable them to solve societal problems. Teachers can use the multiple intelligences to understand the students’ different learning styles when processing kinaesthetic, visual or aural information. Often, students use a combination of these learning styles to learn new material; however, these are modulated by cultural contexts and individual experiences.

Social interactions are essential in knowledge construction and whole person development. Kruse (2009) contends that students can acquire new knowledge through social interactions with family members, peers, teachers, and friends. In the writer’s opinion, the social learning theory aptly describes context-specific learning that is built on behavioural and environmental factors.

Thus, effective social interactions facilitate the construction of knowledge by associating it with individual experiences. As a prospective teacher, the writer strongly believes that promoting social interactions in various contexts would help shape students to learn co-independently and enhance their learning processes. Similarly, the client-centred theory, which focuses on personal experiences, can help in developing positive attitudes and behaviours leading to improved meta-cognition and self-discovery.

Although learners may possess multiple intelligences, there are certain things they cannot do on their own. Education makes learners more knowledgeable and able to construct their own knowledge. The theory of constructivism derives from two key concepts: the more knowledgeable other and the zone of proximal development (Malkki, 2010).

When a learner is in the zone of proximal development, he or she can learn and understand concepts easily with some assistance (scaffolding) from the teacher. After the mastering the concepts, the student can learn independently without any assistance. At this point, the learner, as a meta-cognitive thinker, is able to manage the learning process on his/her own. The writer believes that education should aim to develop the learner’s emotional intelligence to boost his/her confidence to think independently and seek new knowledge.

Theorists emphasise that any pedagogical approach should be contextual to facilitate learning by associating ‘form’ to student experiences and culture (Liton, 2012). Since Saudi is an Arabic country, high emphasis is laid on learning foreign languages, such as English. Saudi uses the communicative pedagogic approach, which relies on “communication as both the objective of language learning and as a means of instruction” (Liton, 2012, p. 134), in student teaching.

However, because the linguistic elements in Arabic differ from those in English, the communicative approach presents many challenges to Saudi learners, partly because it fails to integrate the language into the culture of the students. In this view, humanistic approaches, which focus on ‘whole person’ learning, should be integrated into the Saudi teaching and learning of the English language. Additionally, teaching should focus on student motivation to promote language acquisition (Kalantzis & Cope, 2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation approaches can motivate Saudi students to learn from their experiences and facilitate self-discovery.


Person-centred learning combines lectures with some practical lessons to help students learn from their experience. This learning modality allows the student to apply the material learned in his/her daily life and thus, relate more strongly with new knowledge. It requires a change in power relations in the classroom so that both the teacher and the student play a role in the learning process. These conditions nurture thoughts, behaviours, and feelings, allowing learners to develop into whole persons in their unique ways. In the writer’s experience, the approach is the most effective way of promoting the development of important skills, knowledge, and abilities that can help students resolve emerging global challenges.


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