For most of the past 200 years our education system has been oriented around the institution of schools and the position of teachers within them. The curriculum, timetable, organisation of subjects etc. have all been oriented around the ways in which schools are designed and teachers operate. A learner-oriented system instead places the learner at the centre of all decision making. It provides support for learners that is respectful of and responsive to individual learner preferences, needs, and values. It supports the active involvement of learners and their families in the design and provision of educational services and in decision-making about what is learned, how learning occurs, and where learning takes place.
The rise of interest in and application of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one indicator of this trend. Individuals bring a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning, and UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone —not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.
A learner-oriented approach is also being seen in the development of modern learning environments, where more flexible, multi-use and purposeful spaces are being created, replacing the traditional ‘egg-crate’ classroom, built to a common specification regardless of whether it is catering for a group of five-year-olds or twelve-year-olds.
In the online world we can see developments that parallel this thinking — with a significant shift in user interface design reflecting the shift in orientation to the user, to create for them a more personalised experience of the particular site or online service.
Learner orientation in schools
The video (above) showcases NZ schools where learner orientated design of spaces and pedagogy can be seen: Stonefields School, Amesbury School, Te Karaka Area School and St Clair School.