Student-Centered Learning

In Death of Education, Birth of Learning I outlined how technology is enabling paradigm shifts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

In order to realize these paradigm shifts, This Will (Not) Revolutionize Education focused on how pedagogy must come before technology.

This piece is an example of the above principles. Here at Pearson, our Future Technologies explored student-centered learning (SCL) and asked ourselves:

  • What could we offer that would help teachers bring student-centered learning into their classrooms and help students delve into areas of passion and discover new ones?
  • What are the needs, the obstacles, and the gaps we’d have to address if we want student-centered learning to flourish?
  • Can we put natural learning the classroom that engages everyone, while still linking activity to what teachers are being held accountable to?


Student Autonomy vs. Teacher Accountability

Early into our research it was clear that teachers implementing SCL activities experienced a natural tension between student autonomy and teacher accountability. The more standardized the school the greater the tension. Mandated curriculum, to which teachers were being held accountable, had to be covered. Deviations from this were seen as a risky luxury. We often heard comments like “If I let my students do what they want, then they will just play,” and “How do I know they are learning what they are supposed to?”

Learning from and working with these progressive practitioners we built Fiona, a web-based application to alleviate the tension between student autonomy and teacher accountability in implementing student-centered learning.




Fiona starts with the belief that the role of the teacher is to spark and nurture student curiosity through strong relationships.


Scaffold student-led inquiry

  • Support the inquiry process: Fiona leads students through stages that support an effective inquiry process, such as prediction, production, feedback, iteration, and reflection.
  • Formulate questions: Fiona supports students’ transition from answering other people’s questions to learning to formulate their own.
  • Manage chaos: Students learn more when they learn together, plus they develop social skills, collaboration, and communication. But for all its strengths, group learning also suffers from some common pitfalls. Left to their own devices, students might stray off task. Fiona structures a process so that self-directed inquiry can be effective.


Maintain teacher accountability

  • Link to curricula: When students choose what to pursue, it’s hard to tell whether the required curriculum is being covered. Fiona allows you to upload your own curriculum and shows who’s covered which topics and where there are gaps. It also suggests ways to link unique student interests to the curriculum.
  • Integrate assessment: With Fiona, assessment is integral to the process, not a separate activity. Fiona tracks student processes and products all along the way, from their question formulation, to their pursuit of their inquiry, to their contributions to others’ inquiries, to their deliverables.
  • Convey skill development: Teachers need concrete evidence of learners’ skill development. Fiona identifies the skills being practiced, and displays students’ progress towards mastering them. It highlights strengths and points out weaknesses — and ways to address them.

Fiona is still a prototype but we’re always looking to connect with practitioners. If this is of interest to you shoot me an email.