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Student Centered Teaching

John Hattie, has long reported a low mean effect size (ES) for student-centered teaching methods and currently reports a mean ES of .35, based on 5 meta-analyses and 655 studies.Of course this is based on all subjects and is not context specific. I was recently examining a meta-analysis on the topic by Elif Emanet and Fatih Kezer, conducted in 2021, which produced much greater results, specifically for math instruction, which made me hopeful, that we could find a more nuanced understanding of the impact of student-centered teaching.


John Hattie defines Student Centered Teaching methods as “learning experiences intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students. It focuses on the needs of students, involves modifications and adaptations, and often is premised on the notion that learners construct their own understanding of the world, and thus must be active participants in learning.” Personally I have always been cautiously intrigued by this concept. Addressing our student’s individual needs is obviously important; however, Student-Centered teaching is an umbrella term and is often connected with some pseudo-scientific concepts. Individualized Instruction for example, has a mean ES of 2.35, within meta-analysis, which might make it one of the most evidence-based teaching strategies. However, Teaching to Learning Styles, which is also often included under the umbrella of Student Centered Teaching has a mean ES of .34. Moreover, John Hattie’s research into increasing student choice, has also shown the low effect size of .02. Contrary to Hattie’s research Emanet, Et, al found much greater results and they were able to use variance moderation to perform some very interesting sub-analysis, as can be seen in the chart below. 

While these results were impressive and interesting, I have to admit, I have some concerns. Elift Emanet did not define student centered teaching, which I have to admit I found problematic, as the term is an umbrella term referring to a whole host of pedagogies. Instead they searched for a series of terms, that they felt were associated with student centered teaching including: 'cooperative learning method', 'collaborative learning', 'project

based learning', 'problem solving method', 'student centered. Additionally, Emanet, Et al; started off their paper, by writing a passionately detailed explanation, as to why they are in favor of student-centered teacher methods. I actually found this to be problematic as well, as the purpose of a meta-analysis should be to neutrally assess the efficacy of a factor/concept, whereas it seems quite clear in this paper that the goal was to prove the efficacy of a specific philosophical/pedagogical idea.

While Emanet Et al, of 42 studies found a mean ES of .78, this does seem to be quite a bit higher than previous meta-analyses for all of these terms. For example, Hattie’s meta-analysis of 655 studies found an ES of .35, For student centered teaching. Admittedly, Hattie’s study was for all subjects, whereas Emanet’s was only for math, so I wondered if perhaps, what we are seeing here is the difference between student centered teaching in general, and student centered teaching for math. However, interestingly if we look at meta-analyses on the teaching strategies included within this meta-analysis all of these other factors were found to have lower effect sizes. Which leads me to wonder; how Emanet Et, al found this effect size.

Student Centered Pedagogies.png

In total there appears to be 10 other meta-analyses on this topic, with 4776 studies in total. The average ES for all these other meta-analyses was .33. This means that the ES found in the Emanet meta-analyses was 2.36x higher than all the other meta-analyses on this topic, despite only having 42 studies. It’s possible that the Emanet meta-analysis is capturing something that these other studies are missing, but given the extreme divergent results of this meta-analysis and the relatively small number of studies in comparison to the other meta-analyses and the large number of concepts they are including within the term “student centered teaching” I have concerns regarding its reliability.

While it appears that the relative mean effect size of student-centered teaching is likely quite low, despite the high yield found in the Emanet, Et al paper; I would also be quite willing to bet that there are some student-centered pedagogies and contexts, which would yield high results and I would therefore very much like to see continued research in this area. Moreover, despite my concerns with this paper, I do not think we should disregard the results; but rather I would argue we should cautiously interpret their meaning. 

Written by Nathaniel Hansford

Last Edited 2022-03-01



E, Emanet, Et al.(2021). The Effects of Student-Centered Teaching Methods Used in Mathematics Courses on Mathematics Achievement, Attitude, and Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis Study. Participatory Educational Research. Vol 8(2), PP. 240-259. 


J, Hattie. (2022). Student Centered Teaching. Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from <>. 


J, Hattie. (2022). Problem Based Learning. Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from <>. 


J, Hattie. (2022). Collaborative Teaching. Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from <>. 

J, Hattie. (2022). Student Choice. Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from <>. 


Steenbergen-Hu, S. (2016). What One Hundred Years of Research Says About the Effects of Ability Grouping and Acceleration on K–12 Students’ Academic Achievement. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 849–899.

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