Putting the learner first and at the center of the teaching and learning process means evaluating every decision – at every level of the education system – through the lens of how it will impact learners. It requires educators to understand and celebrate who their learners are, what they are interested in learning, and how that learning can be effectively leveraged to make a difference in their own and others’ lives.
Developing and truly cultivating this understanding requires new relationships in which students, their parents, and the wider community take on a more active role in the process of learning. Teachers are becoming activators of learning, discovering what excites their students and co-designing learning that reflects their interests and needs. The knowledge and expertise of learners and their teachers, peers, families, and communities all contribute to teachers’ understanding of each student, and combine to uncover learners’ hopes and goals so they can be supported to achieve them.
Traditional curriculum plans are not designed with the learner at the center. They focus primarily on content knowledge, and on how to provide the necessary information to learners. This results in standardized learning processes in which all students, regardless of current levels of learning, interests, and needs, are given the same content in the same way. Personalized learning begins to reflect the differences that shape each learner as an individual, but fails to fully embrace the role of the learner in shaping their own learning experiences. School systems must progress beyond standardized and even personalized learning in the pursuit of deep learning – learning that is competency based, contextualized by the learners’ experiences and environment, and powered by student-centered partnerships that create levels of knowledge and understanding made possible only through collective cognition.
Deep, competency-based learning necessitates the capacity to measure students’ development of key competencies (such as the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) “6Cs” – Character, Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking). Rather than single indicators of student performance, the measurement of deep learning calls for Authentic Mixed-Method Assessment (AMMA), which captures the full picture of learner development through the synthesis of a wide range of evidence.
Deep learning evidence is made available through the design of deep learning experiences that facilitate learners’ competency development through their engagement with key curriculum content. In the same way, successful deep learning design deepens this engagement as a direct result of the deep learning competencies it develops. Potentially transformative elements of teaching and learning (such as digital technologies) are too often employed without consideration of whether they are truly enhancing learning outcomes. Deep learning focuses the process of teaching and learning through one driving question – how does each element, tool, or practice directly facilitate student engagement with and development of key deep learning focuses?
With NPDL, teachers from countries throughout the world are successfully designing, implementing, and measuring learning that facilitates student development of deep learning competencies. Similarly, through work with AMMA and The Learner First, teachers and their students are building powerful relationships that create new opportunities for every learner to succeed. Putting students at the center changes educators’ view of the learner, cultivating schools and systems in which learning is meaningful to who learners are and who they aspire to be.