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Student centered / client centered

At the moment I am trying to work out what these terms have in common – on the assumption that there is something!! So, for the moment a search to find some definitions. An article that does provide a brief summary of the essentials of being ‘student centered’ is interesting for me in that is suggests that some teachers are more likely to teach in this way than others. One question is, if you do – are you a better teacher than if you don’t (have a student centered focus)? Perhaps assumptions about student learning can be wrong – ie. do (adult) students want to take responsibility for their learning? If they don’t, why not? What can be done about it? Does it matter? Another question is how significant is the environment? eg. if you set up the class so that the desks are in a circle rather than in rows how much difference does this make to the interaction – and in particular for students taking responsiblity for their own learning? The article referred to above noted that there was a difference – those with the intention to ensure students could link course content to their own experiences were more likely to set up their desks in an informal way. It was interesting to note that the intention to be student centered did not necessarily result in different learning environments when compared to those teachers who did not have this intention. See the Wikipedia for a list of characteristcs of student centered learning.

So, to go to the idea of being client centered what definitions are there? The Wikipedia provides a discussion of the key characterstics. The focus here is on Carl Rogers as the key theorist, the term used in ‘person -centered’ and oddly enough to locate this information the spelling had to be ‘centred’ even though in the discussion it was spelt as’centered’. Now for a few more thoughts. As cited in Matthew Ryan’s web site:  “That CCT is effective has been amply demonstrated by decades of research. Furthermore, recent research has shown that the most significant variables in the effectiveness of therapy are aspects of the relationship and the therapist’s personal development – not the particular discipline they practise or techniques they employ.” There is another site that provides an article that was written by Carl Rogers and provides a very good explanation of the application of this approach to therapy. This refers to the centrality of the ‘life force’ that exists in every person and the importance of tapping into this to facilitate the client using thier own resources.

This might be a superficial comment and based on a few readings – but the information about being client-centered appears to stress the relationship between therapist and client whereas the teacher centered information stresses the teaching strategies. One obvious difference between the 2 situations is that one is focused on working with one person and the other relates to group processes. The common link is the basis of Carl Rogers work. However, one very good read on the topic of “Empathic Intelligence” (as the basis of student centered teaching) is written by Roslyn Arnold.  It focuses on the attitude of the teacher as being the essential core. I do wonder how ’empathic’ you can be in a virtual community. Does this skill require face to face interactions in order that the nuances of body language and voice tone can be noticed?  Further work by Roslyn highlights the importance of inter-subjective experiences in education. In relation to clinicians Moore writes an interesting article looking at various arguments in relation to empathic relationships in practice. Even better, there is a list of  behaviours described as indicators of this type of relationship. These are from the Zen of Listening. Another interesting read on this topic is a workbook called the EI Advantage  which among other things talks about the difference between cognitive and emotional empathy (p103). It states that in EI you are more likely to use cognitive empathy. p117-118 has a very interesting list of indicators of empathic listening.

I have now come across one article that describes a teaching process that brings together student centered approach with elearning. It is called ‘Student centered teaching meets new media’ It describes a course in a medical programme and provides a very good overview of teaching that meets the criteria of being client centered as well as being a critical overview of the realities of elearning. An  article by Holmberg (I have already commented on under ‘learning communities’) refers to the need for empathy in distance based learning. This point is made towards the end.

In relation to the idea that being client centred in e-learning has its own challenges, the article called “Student-Centered Teaching Meets New Media: Concept and Case Study” addresses this topic. It is based on teaching medical students.


September 10, 2007 - Posted by | client centered, E learning communities, student centered |


  1. Thank you very much for that, Linda. I have been thinking about how these different styles of teaching fit with what I am teaching. If I want to teach students how to deliver a breech baby, I will take a teacher-orientated approach ie they will learn what I want them to so there!! This is the way to do it and I’m not discussing it! But if I want students to think about the issues of vaginal breech birth compared to cesarean section and how to obtain informed consent, I think student-centered teaching works really well, linking their experience and how they are going to practice with theory. Just looked back at this-not sure what I am trying to say – will have a look at the links you have put here.

    Comment by Sarah Stewart | September 10, 2007 | Reply

  2. I think that a lot of the learning that is done for exam’s or assessments is only retained in short term memory aspects might remain that add to a growing understanding but most is lost. (I know that this is out there in the learning theories somewhere but not sure where.) I clearly have a lot of learning to do myself. However I do think we have a responsibility to promote life long learning and provide students with the necessary tools to do this.

    Comment by Carolyn | September 10, 2007 | Reply

  3. Sarah, your description might well fit with Kolb’s Learning Cycle – begin with the abstract, practice, try in the real world and finally reflect on the learning before you head off again with more abstract / theory. Hope I got the cycle correct! Whether or not its labelled student-centred might have more to do with the assignment eg. can they take an aspect of their learning and present that or it is pre-set topic. It is interesting to think about it – I doubt that we much that is truly student centered. Bits within courses encourage reflection on experiences but what next??
    In regards to whether or not assessment promotes surface or deep learning (eg. Entwistle)- I dont believe that you can generalise. It depends on the assessment. Some are very good at getting students to think through the issues and to make great leaps in their understanding. I do agree that they are often pivotal to learning!

    Comment by Linda Robertson | September 11, 2007 | Reply

  4. Am interested in learning more about empathetic intelligence. I guess it is related to emotional intelligence – maybe a branch of it? You say attitude is the key to being student centred, it certainly is to being client centred.

    Comment by hazel robertson | October 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. I gather that Ross Arnold is one of the key proponents of empathic intelligence. Its interesting that so much of the descriptions of being client centered (or even student centered) focus on a list of what you do – key atrategies etc. However, most of these are reasonably useless if attitudes are not appropriate.

    Comment by Linda Robertson | October 16, 2007 | Reply

  6. I am Roslyn Arnold , author of Empathic Intelligence:Teaching, Learning, Relating. I found this blog when searching for something else and was struck by the question about empathic intelligence and virtual teaching. I too wonder whether much is lost in on-line learning where we lack the visual cues of face-to face- engagements. The answer might well be too complex to explore fully here but I think the visual engagement allows for the reactivation of other learning experiences (and mother/infant experiences) and that can bring tacit capacities into play. ( am assuming the meories are largely positive). It that much harder to engage on line in the ways we do face to face. The written language has to carry much of the message and that is a challenge. I will think about this some more. I may never find this blog again but I can be contacted by email. I enjoyed reading your comments.
    Roslyn Arnold

    Comment by Roslyn Arnold | November 19, 2007 | Reply

  7. Great to have your comments Roslyn. It is interesting that much of the empathic stance we observe by noticing body language; voice intonation – ie. its often how we know its present. I say this because I am currently analysing video tapes looking for evidence of taking an empathic approach in a client-therapist interview. Written language can actually be decieving – .. anyway, need to think about this more.

    Comment by Linda Robertson | November 20, 2007 | Reply

  8. Another thought about empathic intelligence. We have been reminded often that what matters when teaching in a way that stimulates an elearning community, is the attitude of the teacher. An important message seems to be that the teacher is depicted as a real person with a life and with an interest in learning. Is this comfort with exposing your humanity an element of being empathic? It seems that it has the potential for students to respond to you as a person rather than as a remote expert.

    Comment by Linda Robertson | November 24, 2007 | Reply

  9. It would be interesting to compare the responses of a couple of people to your videotapes, Linda. I suspect we are hard-wired to ‘read’ voices and faces with a fair degree of accuracy. It could be both a survival technigue and a learning technique (part of the same thing, I guess). The interesting thing is that as we speak we can’t see our own faces, generally, so we have to rely on feedback. Sensitive, empathic people respond well to feedback and can adjust accordingly, often without knowing exactly what is is that others are responding to. Yes, it takes a lot of courage and ego-strength to open oneself up to the responses of others. However, if the concerns of the other are central to the purposes of the speaker, therapist, teacher, then such openness can prove affirming and very functional for all participants.

    Comment by Roslyn Arnold | December 18, 2007 | Reply

  10. The point about reading voices and faces is interesting. In the tapes I referred to, the therapists also spoke to me about their responses to the tapes – it seemed as if their intentions to be client centered were thwarted with an overarching agenda related to cost, time and what seemed important in the short term. They were very good at dealing with the immediate problems but did not respond to those that were more long term. Such comments as “I would like to be doing more” were not responded to in the videoed interviews even though they were legitimate concerns for OT practice. It does take courage to open yourself to the possibility that you don’t have an easy remedy to deal with the client’s concern – the question are: whose responsibility is it to solve the problem and what is the role of the therapist in this? Expertise can get in the way of hearing the clients version of the problem.

    Comment by Linda Robertson | December 29, 2007 | Reply

  11. I teach both distance and face-to-face learning, as well as work with individual clients in a therapeutic setting. I’ve read some literature too, on whether cognitive behavioural therapy can be delivered via the internet with little or no face-to-face contact. And yes, it seems to work quite well!

    There are probably a lot of ‘ifs’ and other proviso’s in this, but I think if the language being used in elearning is authentic, if the learner is ready to push him/herself beyond being a passive recipient, if the ‘teacher’ (I personally prefer facilitator) is open, enthusiastic and conveys this, then learning can happen.

    I wouldn’t like to think that clients/participants in a therapeutic sense are being ‘taught’. I certainly don’t ‘teach’ clients in a didactic sense, I help them to find out for themselves what their position is, and what might happen if an alternative was considered. And because I can’t tell someone what is the best solution to their problem, the onus to always have the ‘right’ answer fades…

    Comment by adiemusfree | December 30, 2007 | Reply

  12. It seems that anything can be delivered via the internet. I have heard someone talk about teaching group processes which sounded as though it was very effective. In some ways the teaching processes might be better as you have to think about it in different ways to classroom sessions…. however the underpinning educational processes still apply – adult learning principles in particular. I agree that a facilitator is often a better word to describe a ‘teacher’- someone has also suggested that the teacher is like a curator who puts items out for inspection and responds to the interest shown by the student. I still think that they are a teacher – preferably one who responds to students needs and inspires them to learn.
    I agree that the teacher’s enthusiasm and authenticity are still critical issues – its a matter of how best to convey this. The point about whether or not there is a ‘right’ answer is an interesting one – right for whom?

    Comment by Linda Robertson | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  13. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Comment by sandrar | September 10, 2009 | Reply

  14. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say great

    Comment by beatsbydresale.webgarden.com | October 15, 2012 | Reply

    • I’m sorry to have missed your comment. Its been while since I accessed this blog so its good to be reminded of its content. I have been teaching a Post grad course and encouraged the students to decide what they needed to know and then to research their own topics. Its seems to be working OK – ie they report making changed in the work environment however the final feedback is not yet in. Its a bit nerve racking waiting on the sidelines and I feel a bit redundant at times. Its a matter of how best can you assist students to achieve their goals – and do well in the assignment.

      Comment by Linda Robertson | October 15, 2012 | Reply

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