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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

The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Charles M. Reigeluth, Rodney D. Myers & Dabae Lee

Editors' Foreword


Preconditions (when to use the theory)


  • All kinds of content.


  • All kinds of learners.

      Learning environments

  • Learner-centered rather than teacher-centered.

  • Attainment-based learner progress rather than time-based progress.

  • Customized rather than standardized instruction and assessment.

      Instructional development constraints

  • Requires well-designed resources in the form of tasks and instructional support.


Values (opinions about what is important)

      About ends (learning goals)

  • Development of intrinsic motivation and love of learning are highly valued.

  • Development of learner self-regulation skills (how to learn) is highly valued.

  • Mastery of knowledge and skills is highly valued, including transfer to varied and real-world contexts.

  • Development of collaboration skills is highly valued.

  • Emotional, social, and character development are highly valued, including empathy and desire to contribute to one’s community.

      About priorities (criteria for successful instruction)

  • Effectiveness and intrinsic motivation of the instruction are more important than efficiency.

      About means (instructional methods)

  • The instruction should be customized regarding pace, content, methods, and assessment.

  • Intrinsically motivated learning and love of learning are highly valued.

  • Learning by doing (active learning) is highly valued.

  • Just-in-time instructional support while learning by doing is highly valued.

  • Learning from peers through collaboration is highly valued.

  • Self-regulated learning is highly valued.

  • Self-reflection and self-evaluation are highly valued.

  • Both formative and summative assessment should occur throughout instruction.

      About power (to make decisions about the previous three)

  • Empowering learners to make decisions about ends, priorities and means is highly valued.


Universal Principles

     1. Attainment-based instruction

  • Attainment-based learner progress:  Each learner’s progress should be based on reaching the learning goals, rather than based on time.

  • Attainment-based learner assessment:  Each learner should be assessed through comparison with the criteria for mastery (criterion-referenced assessment) rather than through comparison with other learners (norm-referenced assessment).

  • Attainment-based learner records:  Each learner’s records should be a list or map of individual attainments, rather than a traditional report card with names of courses and letter or number grades.

     2. Task-centered instruction

  • Task environment:  Most instruction should be organized around the performance of a task that is of great interest to the learner, aligned with the learner’s goals, of significant duration, within an immersive environment, and authentic or realistic.

  • Scaffolding:  Three types of scaffolding should be used whenever the task is too difficult for the learner: adjusting, coaching, and instructing.

     3. Personalized instruction

  • Personalized goals:  Long-term life goals and short-term learning goals should be personalized.

  • Personalized task environment:  The task selection should be personalized. Decisions about collaboration (teammates) should be personalized.  And the nature and amount of self-regulation should be personalized.

  • Personalized scaffolding:  The nature and amount of coaching and instructing should be personalized.

  • Personalized assessment:  The choice of assessor and format for the assessment should be personalized.

  • Personalized reflection:  The way the learner reflects on the process and product (or performance) of the task should be personalized.

     4. Changed roles

  • The teacher’s roles should be: a) to assist learners in setting goals, b) to assist learners in designing or selecting tasks, c) to facilitate task performance, d) to facilitate learning, e) to help evaluate performance and learning, and f) to mentor the learner.

  • The learner’s roles should be: a) to be an active learner, b) to be a self-regulated learner, and c) to be a teacher of one’s peers.

  • Technology’s roles should be: a) to support recordkeeping for learning, b) to assist planning for learning, c) to provide or support instruction for learning (both the interactive task environment and the just-in-time scaffolding), and d) to provide or support assessment for and of learning fully integrated with the instruction.

     5. Changed curriculum

  • Expanded curriculum: Many important kinds of learning that are currently absent from the curriculum should be added (and some removed).

  • Fundamentally restructured curriculum: The curriculum should be organized around the four pillars of effective thinking, acting, relationships, and accomplishment rather than math, science, literacy, and social studies.


Situational Principles

      2.1 Task environment

  • An inauthentic task environment might be preferable: a) when it is more motivational for the learner than an authentic environment, b) when it can prevent cognitive overload associated with an authentic environment, or c) when it can be sufficiently safer or less expensive than an authentic environment.

  • A learner-designed task might be preferable: a) when the available tasks from which to choose are inadequate given the learner’s learning needs and interests, b) when there is sufficient time for the learner and teacher to design it, and/or c) designing a task is itself an important learning goal.

  • The task may be project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, or maker-based, depending mostly on the nature of what is to be learned.  

      2.2 Scaffolding

  • Scaffolding can be universal (initiated at a predetermined point in the performance of a task), or triggered (when a certain learner action indicates it is needed), or requested (when the learner asks for help).

  • Scaffolding can be offered by the teacher, another learner, an expert in the task, or technology.

  • Scaffolding can be in the form of a leading question, or information, or a hint, or an explanation (developing an understanding).

      4.2 Learner roles

  • The kinds and amounts of self-direction given to the learner should vary with the kinds and levels of self-regulated learning skills the learner has developed.

                                                                                                                                                   –  C.M.R., B.J.B & R.D.M.

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