Online Education: Why Student Centered Methods Don't Always Work
Inside the Classroom

Online Education: Why Student-Centered Methods Don’t Always Work

For some reason it is almost intuitive to interpret the flexibility of K–12 online-learning platforms in the context of the student. However, it is much more reasonable to expect success from an online program that provides more flexibility for the teachers. In many cases, the adoption of a digital curriculum is based on the idea that the product, in itself, acts as a more student-centered curriculum. While this may be the case, a lot of programs have achieved greater success by limiting learner flexibility. Naturally this means leaning back toward a more teacher-centered approach.

Without teacher-centered methods, students typically will not finish a course in a traditional amount of time…

Aside from the most motivated students, few find success when left to navigate a digital curriculum by themselves. To succeed it requires a concerted focus and resourcefulness that the average student (and certainly the average credit recovery student) simply is not equipped with. Without teacher-centered methods, students typically will not finish a course in a traditional amount of time—or they will, but with marks that may not accurately reflect the student’s ability. Many schools consider lengthening the course of study time in response to this. I have found that interpreting the flexibility of online learning to include lengthening the traditional semester supports unmotivated students and underdevelops their sense of urgency for education.

In a truly engaging work called “How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms 1890-1980,” Larry Cuban reveals that student-centered methods of instruction typically have been short-lived in the classroom, with elementary schools being the exception. The analysis describes how teachers develop fundamental beliefs about how teaching is to be carried out and demonstrates that methods seemingly threatening to those beliefs are not likely to take root in the classroom. And as it turns out, teacher beliefs on instruction tend more towards teacher-centered approaches.

Regardless of whether teachers lean in favor of student- or teacher-centered education strategies, the successful implementation of any new instructional technology will depend on how well it supports the way teachers want to teach. Because of this, the extent to which the technology enables and enhances teachers’ preferred methods of teaching should drive the extent to which the technology is considered.

About the Author


David Cicero

David Cicero has a BA in mathematics from Our Lady of the Lake University and a MA in math instruction from Northern Arizona University. He moved to Arizona in 1994 and was a high school teacher for three years when he realized that he wanted his work to directly affect the classroom at the teacher level. He started working with Edgenuity as a Content and Curriculum Specialist and later became a Professional Development Consultant working with six states in the western half of the US. He is dedicated to advising schools on how to best drive positive student outcomes as he learns about how different schools implement technology in their classrooms.