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Learner-Centered Psychological Principles

The following 14 psychological principles pertain to all learners and the learning process. They are best understood as an organized set of principles; no principle should be viewed in isolation. This document is adapted from the principles developed by the American Psychological Association.

  1. The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.
    Successful learners are active, goal-oriented, self-regulating, and assume personal responsibility for contributing to their own learning.Message for Teachers:
    Use techniques that aid students in constructing meaning from information, experiences, and their own thought and beliefs.
  2. The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.
    The strategic nature of learning requires students to be goal directed. Students must generate and pursue personally relevant goals.Message for Teachers:
    Create meaningful student learning goals consistent with their personal and educational aspirations and interests.
  3. The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.
    Knowledge widens and deepens as student continue to build links between new information and experiences and their existing knowledge base. Unless new knowledge become integrated with the learner’s prior knowledge and understanding, this new knowledge remains isolated, cannot be used most effectively in new tasks, and does not transfer readily to new situations.Message for Teachers:
    Assist learners in acquiring and integrating knowledge by using such strategies as concept mapping and thematic organization or categorizing.
  4. The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.
    Successful learners use strategic thinking in their approach to learning, reasoning, problem solving, and concept learning. They understand and can use a variety of strategies to help them reach learning and performance goals, and to apply their knowledge in novel situations.Message for Teachers:
    Assist learners in developing, applying, and assessing their strategic learning skills.
  5. Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.
    Successful learners can reflect on how they think and learn, set reasonable learning or performance goals. select potentially appropriate learning strategies or methods, and monitor their progress towards these goals.Message for Teachers:
    Use instructional methods that focus on helping learners develop these higher order strategies to enhance learning and personal responsibility for learning.
  6. Learning is influenced by environmental factor, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.
    Learning does not occur in a vacuum. Cultural or group influences on students impact many educationally relevant variables: motivation, orientation toward learning, and ways of thinking. Technologies and instructional practices must be appropriate for learners’ level of prior knowledge, cognitive abilities, and their learning and thinking strategies.Message for Teachers:
    Make the classroom environment nurturing to have significant impacts on student learning.
  7. What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner’s motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual’s emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.
    Students’ belief about themselves as learners and the nature of learning have a marked influence on motivation. Positive emotions generally enhance motivation and facilitate learning and performance. Mid anxiety can also enhance learning and performance by focusing the learner’s attention on a particular task.Message for Teachers:
    Help students avoid intense negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, panic, rage, insecurity) and related thoughts (e.g., worrying about competence, ruminating about failure, fearing punishment, ridicule, or stigmatizing labels).
  8. The learner’s creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn. Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.
    Curiosity, flexible and insightful thinking, and creativity are major indicators of the learners’ intrinsic motivation to learn.Message for Teachers:
    Encourage and support learners’ natural curiosity and motivation to learn by attending to individual differences in learners’ perceptions of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevance, and personal choice and control.
  9. Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners’ motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.
    Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills demands the investment of considerable learner energy and strategic effort, along with persistence over time.Message for Teachers:
    Facilitate motivation by using strategies that enhance learner effort and commitment to learning and to achieving high standards of comprehension and understanding.
  10. As individuals develop, there are different opportunities and constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.
    Individuals learn best when material is appropriate to their developmental level and is presented in an enjoyable and interesting way.Message for Teachers:
    Be aware of and understand developmental differences among students with and without emotional, physical, or intellectual disabilities, to facilitate the creation of optimal learning contexts.
  11. Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.
    Setting that allow for social interactions, and that respect diversity, encourage flexible thinking, and social competence can enhance learning.Message for Teachers:
    Allow for interactive and collaborative instructional contexts to provide individuals an opportunity for perspective taking and reflective thinking that may lead to higher levels of cognitive, social and moral development, as well as self-esteem.
  12. Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.
    Individuals are born with and develop their own capabilities and talents.Message for Teachers:
    Help student examine their learning preferences and expand or modify them, if necessary.
  13. Learning is most effective when differences in learners’ linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.
    Language, ethnicity, race, beliefs, and socioeconomic status all influence learning.Message for Teachers:
    Paying careful attention to these factors in the instructional setting enhances the possibilities for designing and implementing appropriate learning environments.
  14. Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner as well as learning progress – including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment – are integral parts of the learning process.
    Ongoing assessment of the learner’s understanding of curricular material can provide valuable feedback to both learners and teachers about progress towards the learning goals.Message for Teachers:
    Use of varied types of assessment will provide a clearer picture of student learning.


APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: A framework for school reform and redesign. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.