The Benefits of Student-Led Learning in International Schools

By Kathy Deady

Finally, international educational bodies are recognizing that teaching methods need to evolve drastically in response to changing demands and the constant progression of information technology. Recent education reforms in Europe and the Middle East have acknowledged the need for progressive innovation in this area, with a particular focus on the potential for student-lead learning to become a more significant component of the schooling experience.

Student-lead learning is exactly as it sounds. Although teachers remain in the classroom to provide guidance on subject areas and to oversee quality, the control of the learning experience is handed over to the students. They are encouraged to teach themselves and their peers by undertaking their own study and research, then sharing their findings with others.  

A recent pilot study at a Avans University in the Netherlands, showed that handing the lead to students raises grades, increases attendance and enhances overall student engagement. The experiment began with the finance department, whose lecturers had decided radical action was needed to improve a typical attendance rate of just 50% in each class, and the poor exam performance as a result.

Students were divided into groups to present different topics and were given free reign to structure their classes as they wished. It was noted that some classes took a creative approach, using interesting ways of presenting information, some groups held practical sessions, for example, one based their session around an entertaining, popular Dutch game show format. The variety of lesson structure attracted more and more participants every week, with a renewed eagerness amongst the students to get involved during each session.

The benefits of this model of learning in the international classroom may be especially of value. The diverse range of student backgrounds in attendance means the contribution potential is huge. Firstly, when students take the lead, they’re likely to concentrate on ideas around a given concept that interest them, both allowing them to engage with the topic from a more unique perspective than the typical curriculum focus, and allows for greater depth of understanding. Students tend to have a more natural connection with their classmates than a teacher, as they communicate with them in a way that is relevant, on a level that their generation and ability level will understand, by using appropriate language and actions.

Subsequently, when students find learning more accessible, it encourages them to become more active learners and opens their minds to new ways of thinking. Sparks for discussion and debate, critical for enriching the learning experience. Presenting to a group of people builds personal confidence and develops essential oral communication skills which are ever more important in school and the workplace. Collaboration with classmates and taking the lead builds stronger relationships and respect between peers, which in turn improves student participation and boosts morale. It is surprising how well students perform and gain interest, given a little responsibility. Giving students to do things how they like has such a positive impact on their education.

Even more good news is that incorporating a student-led approach in the classroom is as simple as it is effective. Students need to be set clear expectations from the start, but otherwise encouraged to use creativity and initiative in their presentations. Ask them to set goals for their project, consider ways they can involve their audience and evaluate their success afterwards. In the years to come, and with developing technology, we can no doubt expect to see students having much more autonomy over their day-to-day learning experience.

For more information, ideas and resources on student-led learning, check out:

Teach Hub: Student-Led Instruction Strategies

ASCD: Student Directed Learning