On Speaking: learner-centered content

Niall Curry

Senior Research Manager, Niall Curry, continues his series on our recently-commissioned speaking-led research papers. This article focuses in on the concept of learner-centred content and how this can be harnessed during speaking lessons, based on the research paper by Christine Muir.

Our penultimate paper on speaking centres on the learner, and the importance of thinking of learners when choosing content. This refers to the idea of learner-generated or learner-centred content which is the theme of Christine Muir’s paper: Using learner-centred content in the classroom. In this paper, Christine, quite rightfully, positions the learner at the centre of speaking lessons. She explains why content design should be built around learners’ expectations, and based on topics that are pertinent and relevant to them.

Why have learner-centred content?

The reason for this is quite simple. When classroom content is not learner-centred the content can be demotivating. Knowing that motivation is one of the key determinants of success in the language classroom, producing content that does not motivate students could have negative implications for the classroom. Similarly, in contexts where learners’ interaction with English moves beyond the walls of the classroom, the lack of authenticity of classroom content can lead to poor engagement of learners and, by association, poorer learning. So, this idea clearly has sweeping implications. Implications for materials writers and publishers to wrangle with globalised customers with personal and individual needs. Implications for teachers in the classroom trying to do what they can to keep students engaged and motivated to learn. Implications of teacher trainers trying to equip teachers with the skills needed to manipulate materials and content, and even create their own. And, of course, implications of learners who, as we said earlier, are positioned at the centre of all of this. So what can we do?

How can content become more learner focused?

Well there are a number of opportunities to make content more learner-centred – some more easily applied than others. Personalised content, for example, can simply ask learners to draw on their own lives and experiences as input, and should be centred around themes that interest the learners. A quick class survey can yield this information and this would make the learners feel more involved and in control of their learning journey.

With the ubiquity of English, we need to link the classroom content to the outside world, a world where the learners are likely interacting with English on a daily basis. For example, if learners use tech outside of the classroom for quick research, grammar, vocab or meaning checking, incorporating that into classroom practices reduces the separation between the two spaces.

We can also give students choices on what to focus on and push them to do more with each task or project, by raising the stakes and creating tasks that evoke the feelings of real world challenges. At times, depending on the classroom context, and the level, we could also consider using content created by learners. However, though this can be a great motivational tool for the student, it could pose a challenge for teachers as learner-generated content may not always serve to equip students with all their language needs.

For teachers, the key to learner-centred classroom content is getting students ‘on the same page’. Students might need support when sharing personal experiences; teachers may need to see learning as more dialogic; groups and pair work may need to be reimagined as vehicles of language learning and not just vehicles of language practice. The cons are few however, and when looking to develop stronger speaking skills, the pros are many.

Learner-centred content does not need much strong argumentation. It is logical that we should personalise our learning and the evidence of the value of this for motivation in learning is substantial. If you want to find out more, take a look at our paper Using learner-centred content in the classroom.

You can find more research papers and insights into speaking by visiting the Speaking Matters page.

These insights have been used in the development of our new American English course Evolve. Please visit the Evolve web hub for more information and resources.


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