When students drive learning in the class

Classroom learning is for the students. What happens when it is by the students? Experiences emanating from repeated trials on ‘self-driven learning’ suggest that when students drive the class, learning becomes much more enjoyable and participative. However, faculty needs to be careful in filling the essential gap and create aha moment!

Image from: Can We Talk? | Harvard Graduate School of Education by Jessica Lander

I had a brief stint at a B-school in Indore city, serving as Officiating Director. The B-school campus was located slightly away from the main city, in a natural set up with a green and sprawling campus. The slogan written on a billboard on the highway at the turning point for the campus was amazingly striking and I still cannot forget it. It said: ‘For right path in your career, take left’. I started looking at the philosophical side of this slogan. Yes, indeed we need to take left at times, when we want to be right. This B-school gave me one such moment to understand the full import of this idea. It was around mid-night that I wanted to take a stroll of the campus. I was residing inside the campus in a guesthouse accommodation. The campus is fully residential with boys and girls from all over India. While walking through the academic block corridor, I found that the lights in one of the classroom was still on. I thought it must be by fluke and I started walking up there to switch-off the light. When I reached there, to my big surprise, what I saw was indeed breathtaking moment. The classroom was full of students and one of them was teaching the class. I came to know that the boy was teaching mathematical solutions to operations research problems, a technical stuff many might not be proficient enough. Students were very comfortable learning from classmate; in fact, he was being interrupted frequently by many and with authority. The classroom environment was friendly, bursting with light jokes and friendly exchanges. Were they learning? Answer is a big Yes!

Reversing the role  

Sometime reversing the role helps in maximizing students learning. Learner-centric teaching must entail such reversal in roles, even if it is just for an experimentation. This allows the learners to express their hidden worries, which otherwise they could not express with the teacher. It lies at the heart of changing roles thousands of teachers are contemplating to adopt. Students are active creators of knowledge. They are being allowed by many teachers to stay at the center of learning activity and be an active partner in the learning process. It is not about teaching same thing repeatedly, in similar manner to each class over time and to each students the same learning year-after-year. As Socrates rightly pointed out—a good teacher is the one who burns his notes every year! Are we burning our method of teaching every year?

It is different from the day-today role of a teacher where ‘What, When and How of teaching’ is pre-fixed for year-after-year. Most teachers who are respected by their students, are found to discover ways to make students passionate participants in the teaching process by providing experiential learning opportunity, project-based, tour-based educational adventures. These teachers know it for sure that in order to make students take responsibility of their own learning, the teaching learning must be related to their lives and learning activities must have natural curiosity and assessment must be in-built into the learning process.

When do students work harder?

Invariably, students work harder when teachers give them a role. Great teachers know the way to make students enter into such learning contract. They help students preparing their own learning plans and deciding the way they would like to accomplish what they agreed to learn. Assigning the task of leading the discussion works wonders and many teachers found it effective. I know of a teacher who used to start his class with students bringing Economic Times’s headlines in the classroom. This generated multidimensional discussion of an economic issue among the students which otherwise would not have been possible. Taking clue from this success, he provoked students to read the editorial articles and bring the analysis in the class. This worked as a magic wand and many students reported later on that it helped them in sailing through the final job interview. The teacher took it further ahead and created student-driven online ‘discussion forum’. What a wonderful thing to do!

When students led a Case Discussion

Leadership Lab is a unique initiative of Jaipuria Institute of Management, a premier B-school in India’s pink city Jaipur whose motto says “Our own innovation in teaching pedagogy”. The innovations brings in the aspect of having a case instructor along with a devil’s advocate and a dramatic presence of the case protagonist in the classroom. The Leadership Lab aims to develop leadership acumen in students through various teaching pedagogies including discussing cases written in context of the home state Rajasthan with global relevance. It also aims to make students more agile and receptive towards change.

The use of case studies can be a very effective classroom teaching-technique. It is an exercise in negotiation, compromise, creativity and of course respect for others’ viewpoint. The Leadership Lab allows students to experience the real-world problems related to life and business that are often difficult to understand and do not have an obvious solution. The idea is to provide an immersive experience and bringing students as close as possible to reality. Each case executed has a well-structured pedagogy, touching upon human senses and encouraging the element of mystery, drama, humor as the dominant tool. The learning outcomes are measured and sessions recorded for larger dissemination and further research on teaching learning. The episodes are available at “Leadership Lab | Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur“.

Episode 3: A student-led discussion

Episode 3 administered the case titled ‘Tapri-Back to Sustainability’ focusing on the concept of Sustainability Leadership. This time, innovation happened in the sense that the case instructor role was played by a student along with the devil’s advocate role-played by another student, while the protagonist of the case joined online in the second half of the discussion. All the participants joined the protagonist and devil’s advocate in the debate of Sustainability v/s Profits. The case summarized that there is something called ‘sustainability leadership’ and the future of business and society would rest on the growth of such leadership.

From teaching-learning point of view, the leadership lab experiment testified and reiterated following:

  1. Students learn better, when they can see/visualize the context being discussed.
  2. Level of energy in classroom discussion is critical for learning. Surprises, questioning and arguments can be tools for raising the level of energy in the class.
  3. Critical appreciation/thinking is the result of contrast brought about in the argument. In this context, role of ‘devil’s agent’ is of paramount significance.
  4. Students can steer the class, be in the driving seat, and still learn well.

The Episode 3 is available through the link below:

Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

29 thoughts

    1. Very well written sir. Real cases of student’s learning is been well documented and converted into model to be emulated by others. Regards


  1. Nicely written article, learner-centricity’s relevance and effectiveness has been portrayed so well with simple anecdotal evidences. I completely agree with the thoughts of the author about enhancing the students’ learning experiences by giving them substantial role in classroom operations and course delivery.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome insights into teaching learning process…. Creating a 360 degree experience for the learner makes a huge impact. Learning inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom can be facilitated through Classroom discussions, Cases and intiatives like Leadership Lab and so on.

    Thank you Sir for such an awesome read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely Right,
    They help each other to remember and understand the concept but how we can take them to knowledge application and creation level?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article. A class room study for the students by the students. This kind of teaching pedogagy always good for more technical courses like operation management, statistics, accounting, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very relevant point of view in understanding practical dimension of students’ driven and issue-specific ( like cases, sustainability etc.) Learning. They can truly ignite positive and real management transformations when customized while keeping in view contexts, issues, and stakeholders.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Striking article sir. What ‘new’ do I bring to the plate as a teacher is very important. The times are changing fast and our learning needs to evolve in the same way

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Striking article sir. What ‘new’ do I bring to the plate as a teacher is very important. The times are changing fast and our learning needs to evolve in the same way

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is a very relevant article and I recommend to all management teaching professionals to go through this article and use these learnings in their class room teachings.
    I will surely incorporate the learnings in my class.
    Thank you very much Sir for sharing such a wonderful article.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The line “Are we burning our method of teaching every year?”, really forced me to think hard about the point Socrates wanted to convey. Beautifully written, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ‘For right path in your career, take left’.

    In general, we love to keep right…keep pushing on beaten up trail..

    Thinking and acting “Unroutinely” is uncommon. Trying Left calls for daring but it can be handsomely rewarding.

    Empowering students to teach and lead is superb as I saw the vdo. Mentoring and guiding is always are around as GPS for all the learners. This is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sir, this leadership lab is a wonderful initiative and truly helping students in bringing out the best in them.
    I remember from my own college days we would pick up one expert class mate and would ask him/her to teach us some complicated topics esp in subjects like finance, operations, economics and statistics and I have observed this happening in all colleges esp before exams either in libraries, common rooms and even canteens

    What is really commendable is as a teacher you have identified this phenomenon and bestowed a stature to it. It actually would be helping in students understanding the concepts better and gaining more confidence . By trying left you have actually gone right.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A great teacher is a vulnerable teacher. She plans and executes a learning session where students become co-faculty and partner-teacher. She shares learning contents with students in advance & encourages them to lead the session. She is often a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.
    A great teacher avoids the podium, centerstage and attention. You would see her more often in the aisle near students, learning and teaching simultaneously. She knows and she practices Rev. Dr. M Scott Peck’s dictum: Every human interaction is an opportunity to learn and teach. It is also an opportunity to receive and give therapy.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I would urge everyone keen on succeeding in life and learning to ´take left´ and read this deeply insightful article by a distinguished educator, scholar and educational thought-leader who walks the talk…


  14. Hi Dr.Prabhat Pankaj
    Pleasure to read your blog focusing on student centric learning. This is the need of the day and we as teaching faculty have to be revisionists ourselves. Thanks for sharing.

    Neeta Singh

    Liked by 1 person

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