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Introduction to Person Centered Learning

PCL and its Connection to CSLEARN-Educational Technologies

A major share of research and practice at CSLEARN is devoted to Person Centered Learning (PCL). It is the guiding paradigm in numerous courses, theses, and activities. While the core principles of PCL were developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers, CSLEARN is leading in adapting PCL for the new demands of the 21st century. This happens through the thoughtful integration of technology, resulting in Person Centered, technology enhanced learning, in short: PCeL that offers a blend between socially rich face-to-face interactions and ubiquitous web-supported learning.

Carl Rogers believed the primary goals of education should be to promote creativity, to free the mind, and welcome self-direction in the development of democratic citizens who could be trusted to think, feel, and act for themselves. He (1983, p. 20) defined significant learning as combining “[…] the logical and the intuitive, the intellect and the feelings, the concept and the experience, the idea and the meaning. When we learn in that way, we are whole.” This clearly underlines a holistic perception of learning, very much in line of the generative learning, calling for rapport between cognitions and feelings in Peter Senge’s terminology of the learning organization (2006). Another statement by Rogers this time on the qualities of a facilitator of learning, illustrates the congenial direction of thought (1983, p. 271): „Perhaps the most basic of these essential attitudes is realnessi, or genuineness. When the facilitator is a real person, being what he or she is, entering into relationships with the learners without presenting a front or a facade, the facilitator is much more likely to be effective. This means, that the feelings the facilitator is experiencing are available to his or her awareness, that he or she is able to live these feelings, to be them, and able to communicate them if appropriate.”

Rogers contrasts learning that involves the intellect only, in particular rote learning of facts, with “significant, meaningful, experiential learning.” As an example of significant learning he describes the experience when “the toddler touches the warm radiator and learns for herself the meaning of the word hot; she has learned a future caution in regard to all similar radiators […] in a significant, involved way that will not soon be forgotten.” Thus, significant learning is “learning which is more than an accumulation of facts. It is learning which makes a difference – in the individual’s behavior, in the course of action he chooses in the future, in his attitudes and in his personality. It is a pervasive learning which is not just an accretion of knowledge, but which interpenetrates with every portion of his experience.” (Rogers, 1961, p. 280)

In this sense, to Rogers his own experience meant the highest authority and it was to experience that he had to return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth. Rogers (1961, p. 25) wrote: “My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new, primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.”

According to Rogers (1983, p. 20), the following elements are involved in significant learning:

  • There is a quality of personal involvement – the whole person in both feeling and cognitive aspects being in the learning event.
  • Learning is self-initiated. Even when the impetus or stimulus comes from the outsides, the sense of discovery, the reaching out, of grasping and comprehending, comes from within.
  • Learning is pervasive. It makes a difference in the behavior, the attitudes, perhaps even the personality of the learner.
  • Progress is evaluated by the learner. She knows whether it is meeting her need, whether it leads toward what she wants to know, whether it illuminates the dark area of ignorance she is experiencing. The locus of evaluation resides definitely within the learner.
  • Its essence is meaning. When such learning takes place, the element of meaning to the learner is built into the whole experience. (Rogers, 1983, p. 20)

According to Rogers (1983, p. 121), the (inter)personal relationship between the facilitator and the learner was primary for learning to become significant: “The initiation of such learning rests not upon the teaching skills of the leader, not upon scholarly knowledge of the field, not upon curricular planning, not upon use of audiovisual aids, not upon the programmed learning used, not upon lectures and presentations, not upon an abundance of books, though each of these might at one time or another be utilized as an important resource. No, the facilitation of significant learning rests upon certain attitudinal qualities that exist in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learner." (Rogers, 1983, S. 121) When being facilitated, significant learning tends to include some of the following elements:

  • Building upon authentic problems, i.e. on problems perceived as having meaning and relevance for learners
  • Provision and accessibility of material resources, such as tutorials, books, or training information as well as provision of personal resources, using the community, colleagues, and making oneself available as a resource
  • Use of learning contracts
  • Cooperative learning in small groups
  • Conducting inquiry: Helping students to become inquirers working toward scientific discovery
  • Peer teaching and peer evaluation
  • Self-evaluation, reflection and taking account of the evaluation of one’s own learning
  • Encounter groups.

The basic motive upon which Rogers relied for significant learning to happen was that in each person there is a directional, forward-moving tendency, referred to as an actualizing tendency. Students “who are in real contact with life problems wish to learn, want to grow, seek to find out, hope to master, desire to create” (Rogers, 1961, p. 289).

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