Meeting Students Where They Are: A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching

September 09, 2021
People holding puzzle pieces

Over the past year in higher education a range of teaching strategies have been implemented to support students in an ever-changing environment of teaching and learning. Through these changes, one of the more commonly discussed themes was student engagement and a flexible learning environment. Nursing students reflecting on their online learning experience during COVID-19 identified some advantages in this delivery including a flexible learning environment and a more student-centered and self-directed learning experience.

The most important part of the process in creating a more student-centered approach to instruction is to really analyze and identify the characteristics of our learners. Who are they? Where are they? What are their goals? What access do they have to technology and resources? How do they best learn? Knowing who are learners are and identifying their learning needs will help to create a more personalized learning experience with a focus on meeting them where they are to deliver improved outcomes for students.

Getting to know your learners is just one part of the equation. You will need to then apply this knowledge to your course design and development. Below are a few strategies that you can consider implementing in your course to make it more student-centered.

  1. Consider a HyFlex approach to your teaching modality.

    What is HyFlex? This is a teaching modality that is becoming more widely used in an uncertain and ever-changing teaching environment. Within Hyflex, students can participate in a course in either in-person or virtual settings. Instructors are responsible for creating a course’s structure, activities, and content that can be used in both an online and in-person environment. The important focus is to make sure that students who are participating in the course in any format have a clear understanding of the learning objectives, can access course content, engage in activities that demonstrate achievement within the learning objectives, and complete assessments that evaluate their learning.

  2. Review your course organization and layout within Brightspace.

    How is your course structured and is it easy to navigate? Think about your course from your learners’ perspectives. There is a wide range of experience in online learning from students who have never taken an online course to students who are more experienced within online learning. Course navigation should be set up for all learners no matter their level of experience. The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) offers a Course Design Scorecard which provides a rubric for instructors to use when designing courses for all students where organization leads to easier navigation.

  3. Design for all learners using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines.

    The UDL Guidelines provide evidence-based methods of course design that promote a learning environment where all students can access course content and participate in learning activities within any course modality. These guidelines also provide a way for you to build your course for all learners considering the best practices in applying effective course development and implementation methods.Additionally, evaluating your Brightspace course for accessibility can be accomplished through the Ally accessibility checker or the built-in accessibility checker within Brightspace.

In keeping students at the center of course design, development, and delivery, you are enabling all learners to have a uniquely tailored approach to learning that meets their individual needs. These resources and strategies can be a starting point to evaluating and shifting your course design efforts to a more student-centric model. You can begin by getting to know your learners and their educational needs. A student-centered approach takes into consideration the needs of the students and meeting them where they are, providing support where necessary along the way.

Kristin Laudenslager, MSIT, MEd
Curriculum Coordinator
MUSC – College of Nursing


1Bdair, I. A., (2021). Nursing students’ and faculty members’ perspectives about online learning during COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative study. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 16, 220-226. 

2Beatty, B. J. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible Course Design (1st ed.) EdTech Books.

3Online Learning Consortium. (n.d.) OLC OSCQR Course Design Review. >

4UDL. (2021, April 9). The UDL guidelines.