Student-Centered Instruction: A Brief Description

By Peter Connor

Student-Centered Instruction (SCI) is a teaching strategy that fundamentally breaks many of the traditional boundaries governing the manner in which students have—by and large—been conditioned and expected to learn for centuries.

The traditional approach rests on a heavy instructor-dependent relationship. Students are conditioned to rely on the daily injection of course material dispensed from the lectern in doses carefully calibrated to fill each scheduled class period. Throughout, they race to copy notes, PowerPoint presentations, and whiteboard scribblings spoon-fed to them by the "Sage on the Stage" (King, 1993, p.30).

The SCI approach calls for student engagement, immersion and personal responsibility. Instructors are still relied on, of course, but more as coaches working the sidelines. Student self-reliance is promoted through a variety of action-oriented instructional formats that either replace—or support—traditional lectures (Felder & Brent, 1996). Among them:

  • Open-ended problem solving requiring critical and creative thinking
  • Role-playing and participation in simulated situations
  • Non-traditional writing assignments
  • Collaborative team projects
  • Individual, self-paced assignments
  • Community engagement and Service-Learning assignments

Though Student-Centered Instruction may not be an appropriate teaching strategy in every situation, Felder and Brent (1996) point out that successful outcomes have now been widely documented in the educational literature; that in fact, SCI provides "increased motivation to learn, greater retention of knowledge, deeper understanding, and more positive attitudes toward the subject being taught." For the full text, please see Navigating the Bumpy Road to Student-Centered Instruction.


King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35. Retrieved December, 20, 2007, from EBSCO database.

Felder, R.M, Brent, R., (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44(2), 43-47. Retrieved December 7, 2007, from EBSCO database.