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Learning Centers: Strategic Planning, Management and Careful Design

Like textbooks, whether Learning Centers are useful or not depends on who is using them.

If Learning Centers provide opportunities for hands-on, engaged, collaborative, learning activities that target higher-order thinking skills; if the learning activities activate Multiple Intelligences; and if the centers are not too much trouble to create and maintain, then Learning Centers are useful.

Learning centers were a fad for a number of years. But, whether the work that it takes to setup and maintain these centers pays off in terms of increased learning depends on what activities occur in the centers.

What is certain is that hands-on learning activities, even if poorly targeted to instruction, generally outperform the Industrial Age strategy of teachers talking to large groups of students on the "shop floor."

To the extent that Learning Centers produce more learning than classroom lectures, the Learning Centers are beneficial. To the extent that time spent working with Learning Center activities distracts students from higher-payoff activities, the time on Learning Center tasks is less than useful.

Business professionals and project managers call this phenomenon "Opportunity Cost," that is, if students are gaining by doing something, then that activity is at the cost of not doing something else.

However, the right kind of Learning Center, the kind that we propose, are powerful and beneficial.

What has to happen before Learning Centers add value to your students’ school day?

If the Learning Center focuses upon a change of pace from ordinary drill and practice so that students can tolerate more drill and practice by stretching and walking around, then the learning outcomes will be whatever enhanced rote activities can produce.

What kind of Learning Centers work?

In order for Learning Centers to pay off, the following needs to occur:

  • Students must receive immediate help and feedback for all their instructional tasks
  • Students must engage in Learning Center tasks that are neither too easy or too difficult
  • Drill and rote memory tasks must be avoided. (Busy work is still busy work, whether conducted as a whole class, or distributed in Learning Centers

How do I manage Learning Centers?

This is the central question about Learning Centers.

This represents a huge commitment of time and resources.

We cannot tell you if this investment will pay off.


How do I train students to use Learning Centers?

Links to Learning Center Materials

Centers Management Form

Centers: Blank Forms

Math Center Tracking Form