Yesterday, I was at the BILD conference on the future of e-assessment and discussing, among other things, the costs of making eportfolios as learner-centric as they should be if learner engagement is to be more than a phrase on the lips of pedagogic experts. Today, I see that Dennis Hayes has caused a storm because he talked of the need to treat post-18 students as adults. While much of the comment has picked up on this as meaning it gives the student the right to dissent, less has been made of the other key point: “Putting the student at the heart of the university can mean that the passing on and advancement of knowledge is no longer the aim.” So, as Hayes appears to be promoting the cause of students and current conventional wisdom aims for learner-centric learning, it is worth remembering that learner-centric and student-focused universities can be two very different things.
Learner-centric refers to the way in which systems, lectures and resources are made available to students. Instead of being dished out in one manner to a rigid timetable, courses are structured to suit a variety of learner contexts (working, overseas, second-language, online, etc).
“Putting students at the heart of a university”, on the other hand, puts the university first in the sense that it is the pursuit and advancement of knowledge that is key. Students are there to serve and be part of the university.
That students are also learners in the sense that they need guidance and flexible learning pathways is not in dispute but while some complain that learner-centric learning costs too much, in my view that misses the point: learner-centric learning is only ever any use if it contributes to the pursuit and advancement of knowledge. That is the first test and only if that is passed should the more daily pragmatic question be posed: does it cost too much?