Little objective evidence to show effectiveness of learner-centred teaching methods, study warns

There is currently relatively little objective evidence that the much-promoted “learner-centred” approach to teaching is effective, according to new research.

Learner centred pedagogy is designed to encourage pupils to become more involved in decision-making in the school and more active in class and participate in lessons.

It has been advocated by international bodies such as UNESCO and World Bank and considerable time, money, and resources have been invested in LCP in many countries worldwide despite the lack of a comprehensive body of evidence regarding its implementation and outcomes.

New research, by Dr Nozomi Sakata, Dr Leanne Cameron and Dr Nicholas Bremner show how the approach can have positive results, but there is currently little objective evidence to prove its effectiveness. Researchers have called for more larger scale, objective, rigorous research on its effectiveness over time.

Some studies report teachers and students feedback that the teaching style helped to boost motivation, confidence, and enhanced relationships. But there is little proof it is more effective than what teachers have been doing previously.

Dr Bremner, from the University of Exeter, said: “Existing evidence has shown learner-centred pedagogy can have a positive impact, but not enough to justify such a massive policy emphasis worldwide. Much of the evidence is too thin and simplistic to recommend either schools either abandon it or embrace it. On the basis of current evidence, there is a real gap in hard data to prove or disprove the value of LCP, especially given its continued prominence in worldwide policy discourses.

“Many policies have been introduced with good intentions, but they could be implemented in a more thoughtful way which allows teachers to make sensible decisions about using different methods and approaches at different times.”

In the article, published in the International Journal of Educational Development, researchers conducted a review of 62 journal articles from 2001 to 2020 reporting the outcomes of LCP implementation in low- to middle-income countries around the world.

A total of 28 texts cited examples of teachers’ positive experiences of LCP and seven negative.However, only 9 out of the 62 studies contained objective evidence of improved academic learning outcomes.

A total of 26 out of the 62 texts cited examples of teachers or students’ perspectives of enhanced student learning, whilst 9 texts cited examples of little to no improvement in student learning.

Dr Bremner said: “Larger scale experimental studies may be challenging from a methodological perspective and are likely to imply a large investment in time and resources. However, on the basis of current evidence, there is a real gap in hard data to prove or disprove the value of LCP, especially given its continued prominence in worldwide policy discourses.

“The more subjective research, for example studies presenting perspectives of teachers and students, was more prevalent than objective research, and did seem to lean towards positive experiences of LCP for non-academic outcomes such as student motivation and confidence, as well as enhanced relationships. Such outcomes may not always be the priority for educational policymakers, but many would argue they are extremely important.”