Instructional-Design Theories and Models: Volume IV, The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Edited by Charles M. Reigeluth, Brian J. Beatty & Rodney D. Myers       2017

Chapter 1

Unit 1 provides a broad yet shallow view of the learner-centered paradigm of education and training.  Chapter 1 presents an "epitome" of design theories for this emerging paradigm.  Because decisions about how to teach in this paradigm are inextricably intertwined with decisions about how to test and even with decisions about what to teach, this chapter describes design principles for all these aspects of education and training.  Chapters 2-5 then present an elabora­tion on the principles in Chapter 1, and Unit 2 provides yet another level of elaboration. 

The learner-centered paradigm is characterized by far more variations than is the teacher-centered paradigm.  As theorists attempt to provide more detailed guidance, we find that there are alternative ways (methods) to imple­ment a general principle, and that different ways are preferable in different situations.  We therefore asked all authors to describe situational principles as well as universal principles. Also, since design principles are goal-oriented and thus normative, they are based on values.  Methods should often vary as one's values vary, so we asked all authors to describe the values that underlie their design theories.  In sum, all authors were asked to address the following in their chapters: 1) introduction, including definitions, importance, and under­lying descriptive theories, 2) values upon which their design theory is based, 3) universal principles or methods for their design theory, 4) situational prin­ciples for their design theory,  5) implementation issues or case description, and 6) conclusion or closing remarks.

In Chapter 1 Reigeluth, Myers, and Lee present a comprehensive vision of the learner-centered paradigm of instruction, a vision founded on the idea that the current paradigm of instruction – now more than a century old – is no longer appropriate to meet the learning needs of individuals or society.  The Industrial-Age conception of education as a process of mass production – in which learners all study the same thing at the same time and are assessed in the same way – is no longer adequate in the Information Age.  The 21st century is a time of accelerating change, rapidly accumulating knowledge, and dramatically increasing access to that knowledge.  Rote memorization and standardized test­ing are resulting in students whose knowledge and skills are practically obsolete upon graduation.  We need graduates who are equipped to embrace change, who are prepared to make sense of the vast amounts of information at their fin­gertips, and who are curious and eager to communicate, collaborate, innovate, and create new knowledge.  To help all learners succeed, the authors describe the learner-centered paradigm as being attainment-based (or competency-based) rather than time-based, task-centered rather than content-centered, and personalized rather than standardized.  This requires changed roles for the teacher, the learner, and technology. It also requires a different paradigm of curriculum, one that is fundamentally restructured around effective thinking, acting, relationships, and accomplishment. 

In Chapter 2 Voorhees and Voorhees elaborate on the attainment-based nature of the leamer-centered paradigm.  They address the nature of com­petency statements, which are largely related to learning goals and criteria for their attainment.  They address sequencing and structuring of competencies to accelerate learning, principal among which is basing learner progress on mastery rather than time.  And they devote considerable attention to stu­dent assessment, which should measure individual skills and knowledge, be criterion-referenced with predefined rubrics, be performance-based, be per­sonalized with student input on their design, and much more.  The authors also address the importance of a system to keep track of the competencies that each student has mastered and a system for constantly evaluating and improving the instruction and assessments. 

In Chapter 3 Francom elaborates on the task-centered nature of the learner­-centered paradigm.  Based on Merrill's "first principles of instruction," he offers guidance for 1) selecting, sequencing, and scaffolding tasks, 2) activating prior knowledge, 3) demonstrating performance of skills (or part-tasks) and providing procedural and supportive information, 4) having learners apply those skills and procedural and supportive information, and 5) providing opportunities for the learners to integrate what they have learned and explore new ways to use it.


In Chapter 4 Watson and Watson elaborate on the personalized nature of the learner-centered paradigm.  Their design principles offer guidance for per­sonalizing each student's long-and short-term instructional goals, creating a personal learning plan for each student, and keeping detailed records of each student's progress.  Guidance for personalizing the task environment addresses selecting tasks that are of great interest to the student as well as relevance to the learning goals, and deciding whether tasks should be done individually or col­laboratively. Principles for personalizing scaffolding for the task address adjusting the quantity and quality of scaffolding to the student's self-regulation skills and developmental needs.  Principles for personalizing assessment include guidance for deciding how to assess both task performance and mastery of individual attainments.  And guidance for personalizing reflection address when and how a student should reflect on both the learning process and task performance. 

In Chapter 5, the last chapter in Unit 1, Prensky elaborates on the nature of curriculum for the learner-centered paradigm. He describes a truly different paradigm of curriculum, one designed to prepare all people for a useful and successful life.  It has some of the content from the current curriculum, which is organized around the four main subjects of Math, English, Science, and Social Studies (MESS), but it totally reorganizes them under the four main subjects of

thinking effectively, acting effectively, relating effectively, and accomplishing effectively.  He describes many sub-skills for each of these four main subjects, and he describes how traditional subject areas are needed as vehicles for learn­ing them.  It is our view thar the four new subjects are equally relevant for K-12 education, higher education, and corporate and government training.


In Unit 2 this fairly general set of design theories is elaborated for more detailed and varied guidance about what methods to use and when to use them in the learner-centered paradigm of education and training.  Then Unit 3 offers design theories that are intended for use in the teacher-centered paradigm as steps toward the learner-centered paradigm.