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Student-Led Learning: An Overview

Student-Led Learning: An Overview

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Student-led learning is a learning process where the student plays the central role in picking the lessons and topics, and the student is involved in assessing their own learning at every step.

What Does “Student-Led Learning” Mean?

By Crystal Gammon

Traditionally, education has had a precise formula. Teachers or parents plan a lesson, determine what they will teach, and determine how to assess what the student has learned. The student’s job has always been just to receive and process the provided information.

While certainly a tried and true educational method, this teaching formula limits the student to learning only what the teacher or parent wants them to know. It’s finite and limited and does not encourage further discovery! But what if there was another way? A better way? Welcome to the concept of student-led or delight-driven learning!

Student-led learning is a learning process where the student plays the central role in picking the lessons and topics, and the student is involved in assessing their own learning at every step. In layman’s terms, the child picks what they are interested in and drives the study topics themselves. They let their passions drive their education.

Not sure about this idea? Ask yourself this question. For the student who resists homework, memorizing, and studying for tests yet has memorized every way to break the rules in their favorite video game, who taught them? Their parent? Their teacher?

Why is Student-Led Learning Important?

Simply put, it encourages independence. When students take responsibility in deciding what they will learn, they become more inspired to seek a deeper understanding of the topic all by themselves. They will seek out information on their own. Students who know how to acquire knowledge through their own research skills are set up to succeed in life, often more prepared for independent life after graduation. Student-led learning also builds leadership skills and prepares students to transition from the home or classroom to productive work life.

How Can You Create a Student-Led Learning Environment?

The first step in creating a student-led learning environment is to learn to let go of control. Give the students the reigns and allow them to drive their learning. Let them come up with an idea. If they love dinosaurs, then start provoking their thoughts about dinosaurs. Let them find math problems on their own from a math game about dinosaurs. Let them research dinosaurs and put together a display of the prehistoric world. You get the idea. Allow them to reveal what inspires them and then help them take it to the next level.

Provide your students with the learning materials they need and allow them to explore the learning materials independently.

What is the Student’s Role?

In student-led learning, the role of the student is to facilitate their education. Students will begin by deciding what they want to learn. They should always be actively seeking knowledge. Next, students will determine how they will learn to study areas of interest. Students will work with their peers, or alternatively, in a home environment, and independently plan and implement the activities in a class setting.

Finally, students will determine what they will need to do to assess their learning and decide if they have met the learning goal. Students will learn to give and receive feedback with the guidance of their teacher or parent. Students will also determine, with input from peers, what they need to know next.

What is the Teacher’s Role?

It is essential to understand that the teacher’s role in student-led learning is to provide guidance. As the teacher, you will encourage the students to be independent while guiding them to plan and carry out their own investigations. Therefore, model how to think rather than tell them what to think.

Instead, you will teach them how to determine what they need to know for themselves. Show your student how to provide you with evidence of their own learning and accomplishments. Learning in this fashion will prepare your kids for life in the adult world. This is what we do in an adult work environment. Build these independent self-promotion skills now, and let the children reap even more benefits when they grow older. Rubrics can be helpful for self-evaluation, and you can build expectations for your student to “grade” themself by setting aspirations for success.

What are the Benefits of Student-Led Learning?

  1. Increased Engagement: When your student is responsible for determining what they want to learn and how they will learn it, they are more engaged in the process. We all work harder when we are passionate about what we are doing.
  2. Improved Participation: Students are responsible for choosing the activities they will participate in for each lesson. When they are responsible for planning their own activities, they will be more likely to participate.
  3. Improved Retention: Student-led learning is highly engaging and designed to be reflective. When students develop their learning activities and exercise reflective practices about their learning outcomes independently, they are more likely to remember what they learned.
  4. Enhanced Academic Performance: Studies show that students involved in planning and implementing their own learning activities will work harder to give their best performance.
  5. Improved Metacognition: Teach them to think about thinking. Students should learn to ask, “what do I want to know, and how will I know when I have learned it?” There is no more powerful lesson in a child’s life than this one, and it is how lifelong learners are born!
  6. Develop Critical Thinking: The freedom to explore real-world problems and develop critical thinking skills drives students to solve real-world problems, think critically about issues, and apply them to their activities. Self-reflection on their learning will improve their performance in future lessons.
  7. Improved Collaboration: By learning to work in small groups, providing valuable feedback to their peers, and receiving and processing input from their classmates, they strengthen their collaboration skills.

How Can You Guide Your Student Through Their Greatest Interests?

  1.  Make Reflection Part of the Lessons: Through every part of the lesson (opening, inquiry, research, practice, and assessment), give the students opportunities to reflect on their learning and identify areas where improvement is needed.
  2. Spark Curiosity: Model how to ask interesting questions. Your students will need to know what they are learning about, why they are learning about it, and why it will be helpful to know in the end. When students facilitate their learning, that effort will spark their innate curiosity and keep them engaged until they have mastered the content or skill they are pursuing.
  3. End Each Lesson with Reflection Activities: The lesson is not over until the student has had an opportunity to reflect on what they learned, how they applied their new knowledge, and most importantly, what to learn next! All answers lead to further questions! You can do this by think-pair-share activities or exit tickets. Think-pair-share activities are when students work together to determine the solution to a problem. The method encourages discussion and teamwork. Exit tickets are important bite-sized activities that drive home the point of the lesson taught that day.


Student-led learning requires challenging everything we were ever taught about teaching and learning. The teacher’s role is changed from the head of the class to merely a model for navigating education.

As a teacher or parent, it can be challenging to give the reigns over to our students. However, when we teach our students how to learn rather than learn, we create independent problem-solvers ready for life outside the classroom.

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