What Is Student-Centered Learning? And How Can It Benefit You?

Student-centered learning can help you graduate with professional skills, experience, and confidence. We take a look at this unique approach.
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  • Student-centered learning is when a program emphasizes the student experience.
  • Students build real-world skills, learn from professionals, and develop confidence in their field.
  • Colleges use techniques like student-led discussions, community projects, and networking.
  • USC Bovard College uses student-centered learning in online programs to engage distance learners.

Advertising Disclosure: This content was created by BestColleges and sponsored by USC Bovard College.

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Choosing a college that prioritizes the student experience can be key to your success. Student-centered learning (SCL) is when a school centers students when building out degree programs and developing a learning environment.

So how does student-centered learning work? We spoke with administrators about the value of SCL and how universities can use it to benefit students.

For graduate students, a student-centered environment can be especially essential for preparing them to be experts in their field while gaining critical work experience and balancing other obligations.

What Is Student-Centered Learning?

Student-centered learning can be interpreted in a few ways. Generally, it's when the structure of a program and learning environment prioritize the student experience.

When an institution claims to be student-centered, its programs are designed to give students more support, clarity, and flexibility. An example of SCL is an online degree program that focuses on the essential knowledge and skills students need to pursue a particular career.

Our college was built from the ground up, with our students' success in mind, said Dr. Anthony Bailey, the dean of USC Bovard College, which is known for its innovative online graduate programs.

At USC Bovard College, you will find an inviting and collaborative culture where lifelong learners are gaining the knowledge and skills they need to move their industries, and careers, forward, said Bailey.

Student-centered programs focus on the development of key skills within the context of their degree program. They can also help students jump right into their desired profession and respond to common situations in their careers.

Our classes are taught by dedicated faculty, who are expert practitioners in their fields, said Bailey. They aid their students' understanding with real-world examples, as well as the guiding theory and principles they teach in the classroom.

Designed with students in mind, USC Bovard College's online programs focus on ensuring that each student graduates ready to tackle their career head on.

Our streamlined, applied curriculum has real-world applicability, explained Bailey. What our students learn in the classroom today, they will use in their work tomorrow.

Explore Programs From USC Bovard College

How Do Colleges Use Student-Centered Learning?

A college that values student-centered learning builds each degree program with its unique students in mind.

For example, a student-centered online graduate program won't just be a digital version of a campus-based program. Rather, it will be designed specifically for online students to succeed.

Often that means streamlined requirements, a balanced course load, and an engaging curriculum.

We reinvented the online learning environment by building a platform that's just as engaging and effective as a classroom on campus, said Bailey. Students take deep dives into complex concepts, attend live sessions each week, and engage with professional multimedia to bring theory to life.

Giving students the opportunity to connect with professionals in their prospective fields is a strong tool for student-centered learning — whether that's through community projects, guest speakers, or networking events.

In the classroom itself, student-centered learning typically involves student-led discussions and community-based projects.

Some of the most powerful classroom conversations have come from when I've followed a student's lead from an insightful question or comment, said Jamie Jacobs, a professor at USC Bovard College and co-founder of Gig Talent.

Student-centered classrooms can help students gain confidence, participate more freely, and develop professional skills.

Using a student-centered approach allows us to connect with students, increase engagement, and lean into organic learning opportunities, said Jacobs.

Student-Centered Learning Is Ideal for Online Students

Most students will benefit from a student-centered approach to learning, but this is especially true for students considering an online program.

Earning your degree online can often be an isolating experience, and students may worry they'll miss out on the same rigor that campus-based degrees demand.

When the online degree is student-centered, however, the curriculum and faculty are dedicated to delivering the same excellence that on-campus students receive.

Creating a sense of community is an essential part of student-centered learning. As in the workplace, creating connections and a sense of belonging with students is critical, said Jacobs.

A strong student-centered online program can create opportunities for students to connect to their professors and peers, just as they would on campus.

The power in reading students' facial and nonverbal cues, leveraging chat functions, and creating space for students to share what is front of mind for them creates a classroom environment that remains relevant and in which we can identify opportunities to connect the learning to student experiences and perspectives, said Jacobs.

USC Bovard College offers online students live sessions and frequent interaction with faculty and peers every week. The college's programs also allow students to balance work and personal commitments while pursuing a master's degree.

Being able to gain professional experience while working toward a degree will appeal to many students hoping to advance their careers. Taking the material you learn in class and applying it to your job the next day can also improve your learning experience.

When choosing a school to attend, online students should settle for nothing less than a student-centered program.

With Advice From:

Portrait of Anthony Bailey

Anthony Bailey

Dr. Anthony Bailey is the founding dean of the USC Bovard College, which supports individuals during key academic and career transitions through online and hybrid programs, and includes master's degrees for professionals and the USC Bovard Scholars Program.

Dr. Bailey has nearly 20 years of experience in higher education. He has represented the education industry with respect to trade agreements on an advisory committee of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Commerce. He is also an associate professor of clinical entrepreneurship at USC and provides strategic advice to a number of private equity firms in the education sector.

Bailey received his BA and MA from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, his MBA from the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, and his doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Jamie Jacobs

Jamie Jacobs

Jamie Latiano Jacobs is an award-winning leader and entrepreneur who has led diverse organizations through growth, change, and transformation for more than 20 years. As an HR leader, she was known for transforming and building excellence in HR teams and company cultures. Her experience ranges from independent startups to global Fortune 50s in an even broader range of industries with companies like Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Ingersoll-Rand, Ingram Micro, Thales, and Renovate America. Jamie is the co-founder of the modern talent collective, Gig Talent.

Jamie is a former president of the National Human Resources Association, a professor in USC Bovard College's MS in human resource management program, and an ICF professional certified coach. She has been recognized with accolades like the 2016 HR Superstar by HRO Today and the Women Who Mean Business Award by the San Diego Business Journal.