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Student-led learning

Education leaders want students to have more autonomy, from what they learn to how the classroom operates. With increasing recognition of the importance of transitioning students from school to the outside world, education leaders argue that ‘student agency must become the norm, not the exception'.

76%of teachers in Mexico say that autonomous learning is one of the biggest advantages of using technology in the classroom at a pedagogical level.

Blink Learning, 2018

65%of American educators say that student-led learning is extremely valuable in developing 21st-century skills.

Nureva, 2016

67%of the general public in Spain think that it’s more important for public schools to teach students to be creative and think independently than to encourage discipline.

Pew Research Center, 2017

Hear from the experts

Student-led learning

A conversation with Rob Houben

Head of School, Agora

Rob Houben

Why do you think that more schools are focusing on student-led learning? What do you see as the most significant benefits?

Schools are finally beginning to realise that you can’t force passion and motivation upon students. We know that it is not your IQ but your passion and motivation that are the keys to success. So, if we can start with the student's interests, we can build skills and knowledge from there. Then, learning goes into overdrive and students are set up well to become lifelong learners.

Tell us about the best example of how you’ve seen student-led learning in action.

At Agora, we had a student who explained the atom bomb to us. We have other students who repair car engines. We have other students who made our digital school environment and started their own company at the age of 16. Another of our students learned Korean on her own and gave Korean guests a tour of our school. I see students start projects on their own and end up with a group of 15 or even 30 other students working toward a successful project. I see projects that start with 13-year-old students and, along the way, get adult experts hooked up with the project on a voluntary basis for one day a week.

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective student-led learning in schools?

It’s all about the mindset of the staff and teachers. You have to forget what you know about teaching and how schools are organised, and start with what you really know about learning! You need to start with the personal goals and personal learning paths of the studen. This means starting with something that the student wants to learn, make or do, and giving the student the chance to fail and reflect on that along the way. A ‘teacher’ should use all of his or her knowledge to ask the right questions and help the student reflect, not simply explain to them. This enables students to manage their own learning process. You don’t need preset courses, classes, class timetables or age groups for that.

Yuhei Yamauchi
Student-led learning

A conversation with Yuhei Yamauchi

Professor, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo

Why do you think more schools are focusing on student-led learning? What do you see as the most significant benefits?

The expansion of information and communication technologies such as AI has raised the level of required skills that human beings need. As we move into an age where people will commonly live beyond 100 years of age and have more career mobility, they need to become lifelong learners. Schools need to help us develop the ability to continuously learn. By promoting student-led learning, it becomes more possible for learners to ‘learn how to learn’. At the same time, learners can think more about how their fundamental learning at school will be applicable throughout their life. Being able to understand the meaning of their learning is a critical benefit.

What does it look like when student-led learning is effective?

In student-led learning, it is important for the learner to have their own concerns and define their own questions. In effective student-led learning, learners are strongly motivated to work on their issues. In addition, they actively exchange opinions with classmates and people all over the world, and deal with contradictions and conflicts from different ideas. While overcoming this, deep learning happens. In other words, it can be said that it is not effective if the learner is not motivated.

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective student-led learning in schools?

For effective student-led learning, it’s important that the teacher supports the learner in selecting a topic that they’re interested in and that can be address within the allotted time. Students should have access to the information needed and opportunities to discuss their topic with classmates in order to deepen understanding. Furthermore, it’s important that students are able to engage with experts in the community so that they can solidify and defend their position. In the middle of student-led project learning, the teacher should give appropriate advice on the learning if the student gets stuck on their project.

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