Lesson 3: Keep learning central

Lesson 3: Keep learning central

We now see that our mission is not instruction but rather that of producing learning with every student by whatever means work best.

Barr & Tagg, 1995

From Teaching to Learning—A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education

In a traditional view of education, the classroom or lab is a place where the instructor and teaching assistant present knowledge. This teaching-centred perspective tends to focus on the development of excellent presentation skills. A learning-centred perspective shifts the focus outward to seeing the classroom or lab as a place where students learn. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is actually a paradigm shift (Barr & Tagg, 1995).

When we hold a learning-centred view of education, everyone in the classroom is seen as a learner—including the instructor and teaching assistants. While the students are learning about the field of study, teachers are learning about how best to support students in their learning. Clear and effective communication is definitely essential to effective teaching, but so is course and lesson design, creating a safe learning environment, providing opportunities for active engagement with course material, and providing meaningful feedback to students.

Applying a learning-centred approach

Having a learning-centred approach to teaching also requires that we know a) who our students are, b) how they perceive effective teaching and learning, and c) how to apply the principles of learning-centred teaching.

  1. Statistics

    • More than 26 000 undergraduate students
    • 35% of those students are in their first year of university
    • Just over half of first year students came straight from high school
    • The 4 largest faculties—Arts, Science, Engineering and Business—account for approximately 20 000 undergraduate students
    • Nearly 10% of undergraduates are international students
    • 2/3 of undergraduates are ages 18-25
    • More than 1000 undergraduates are over the age of 40
    • More than 2000 undergraduates are registered with Student Accessibility Services

    Source: University of Calgary Office of Institutional Analysis Fact Book – Dec 2018

  2. What does this mean for you as a GAT?

    • You are likely to have students whose educational journey has been different from yours. 
    • You may have students in your class/tutorial/lab who are older than you.
    • You are likely to have students who require accommodations. You will want to familiarize yourself with how to create accessible course materials.
    • Having a diverse group of students enriches the learning environment. Students may have previous educational, personal, and/or work experiences they want to share. Enjoy learning with and from them!
    • Consider starting your course with a short survey about students’ prior learning experiences and expectations.

How do undergraduate students view effective teaching?

Download this handout to compare your views on effective teaching with a study of Canadian undergraduate students’ perspectives. You will find the summary of student responses on page 5 of the referenced study from Memorial University.

Applying principles for learner-centred teaching

The following principles have been adapted from Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) principles for good practice in undergraduate education; Ramsden’s (2003) principles for effective university teaching; Weimer’s (2013) key changes to practice for learner-centred teaching; and Lizzio et al.’s (2002) conceptual model for an effective academic environment.

Ensure learning material is stimulating, relevant and interesting. Explain learning aims and complex concepts clearly. Use a variety of methods that encourage active approaches to learning. Adapt to evolving classroom contexts.

Show interest in students’ opinions and concerns. Seek to understand their diverse talents, needs, prior knowledge, and approaches to learning. Encourage interactions between instructor and students. Share your love of the discipline.

Ensure students understand the intended learning outcomes and assessment strategies. Provide organization, structure and direction for where the course is going.

Provide opportunities for students to develop and draw upon personal interests. Where possible, offer choice in learning processes and modes of assessment. Provide timely and developmental feedback on learning. Encourage metacognition to promote self-assessment of learning.

Use teaching methods and learning strategies that encourage mutual learning, as well as thoughtful, respectful and collaborative engagement and dialogue between all members of the classroom community.

Clearly align assessment methods with intended course outcomes. Provide clear criteria for evaluation. Emphasize deep learning (not just rote memorization). Scaffold assessments to ensure progressive learning.

Gather feedback on your teaching from students, peers, and the instructor of record. Practice critical self-reflection. Consult scholarly literature on teaching and learning. Identify clear goals for strengthening your teaching practice.

Additional resources

A resource that "attempts to bust the dichotomy between teacher-centred and student-centred by focusing on learning."

Lesson checklist

  • Consider what it means to have a learning-centred approach to teaching
  • Become familiar with the demographics of UCalgary undergraduate students
  • Compare your view of effective teachers with that of undergraduate students
  • Commit to including some teaching strategies that are consistent with a learning-centred view of education
Keep learning central


Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning — A new paradigm for undergraduate education, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), 12-26, DOI: 10.1080/00091383.1995.10544672.

Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, Ks, & Simons, R. (2002). University students' perceptions of the learning environment and academic outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. Routledge.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. John Wiley & Sons.

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