3 minute read

Promethean explains: student-led vs teacher-led learning

Share this article:

The concept of student-led learning has gained pace over the past couple of years. It means a departure from a traditional classroom set up, giving pupils more autonomy and encouraging students to take more ownership of their results. 

In a teacher-led class, the educator decides the shape and pace of learning, often in a linear format. Student-led learning involves more collaborative projects, greater reliance on group work, and fewer lecture-style lessons. 

Broadly speaking, educators often distil the two learning methods as below.

A teacher-led classroom focuses on:


  1. Traditional pedagogical methods
  2. Lecture-style lessons
  3. The teacher at the front of the class
  4. Learners absorbing knowledge

A student-led classroom focuses on:


  1. Modern learning techniques
  2. Group work and collaborative projects
  3. Pupils in control of their learning
  4. Learners being self-aware

These differences can have a huge impact on the pedagogical focus of the classroom. Some educators believe that student-led learning empowers and motivates pupils to drive better personal learning outcomes. Others, however, maintain that a departure from teacher-led learning can hinder knowledge-building

Indeed, such binary scenarios are problematic in the modern classroom; both traditional and modern teaching methods deliver value. Here we assess both:

Why is student-led learning popular?

Many educators believe that giving greater power to pupils allows them to become more aware of their personal strengths. To facilitate this, teachers may encourage students to ask more questions and deliver more frequent feedback.

Many teachers encourage pupils to perform their own research online and bring their findings to the classroom. They believe that allowing students to take more responsibility for their studies can deliver long-term benefits such as increased soft skills.

A student-led approach is widely considered to develop greater confidence in pupils, with a focus on formative assessment to understand personal strengths.

Why is teacher-led learning popular?

Some educators are sceptical of the benefits of a student-led approach to learning, claiming the positive results to be unclear. Others strongly believe that teacher-led learning is essential to provide a structured approach that children’s brains are yet to develop.

Indeed, according to a 2015 report by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), pupils with higher levels of teacher-directed instruction achieved significantly better results. The report suggests that pupils exposed to higher levels of enquiry-based instruction and student-led learning achieved significantly worse results.

The same PISA report claims that teacher-led approaches, such as explaining how a science idea can be applied to a number of different phenomena, had a net positive impact on pupil scores. 

Could the solution be your classroom set-up?

As many teachers know, education is rarely as binary as these two learning scenarios suggest. It’s possible to blend student-led learning with teacher-led learning, to ensure pupils are engaged and motivated, but also given structure and the best access to knowledge. The solution may be to develop a more rounded classroom, instead.

A rounded classroom puts the teacher at the centre of learning. For example, consider the classroom space. Do you have an interactive display, like an ActivPanel? If so, why not arrange the pupils’ desks in a semicircle around it so everyone can see and hear effectively? 

A rounded classroom isn’t just physical, it’s metaphorical. A flywheel approach to learning allows for constant feedback and improvement. Successful learning, therefore, is perhaps student-centred even if it continues to be teacher-led. 

If your classroom is set up for more traditional teaching, remember that it’s not just the room design that makes a classroom more student-oriented. Think of ways to encourage pupils to speak up, ask questions and get involved in what they learn. Edtech, apps and digital lesson delivery software, for example, can all help give teachers more flexibility to dynamically adapt their teaching, and gain valuable feedback on students’ learning.

Found this interesting? Why not share it:

Read more articles about:


Quick guide to maximising edtech investments

Are you juggling a shrinking ICT budget with a need for more tech in your school? Our quick guide helps you adopt a strategic approach to making best use of your budget.