Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 16

Accepted Abstracts

Approaching Learner Differences with Learner-Centred Teaching in Higher Education

Dietmar Tatzl, FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences (Austria)


Learner differences are expressions of individual students’ personal characteristics and their social contact groups. Biographical and personal differences include age, gender, ethnicity, physical qualities, nationality, languages, education, and the like, whereas further differences stem from a person’s involvement in and identification with social and cultural communities. On the one hand, such differences may challenge teachers who may feel overwhelmed by very heterogeneous groups; on the other hand, they can provide a rich source of interactive potential in the tertiary foreign language classroom. This contribution reviews selected literature on classifying learner differences and revisits learner-centred teaching as a means of accommodating diverse needs of learners. It is the goal of this review to sensitise teachers to the individuality of their learners and approach the global foreign language classroom from the perspective of learner-centred teaching. A crucial construct to that end is learner interest, which teachers should capture with their materials, activities, and courses. Particularly in higher-education English for specific purposes (ESP) settings, course designs require a focus on learners’ individual and professional interests. This contribution, therefore, further reviews good practice of learner-centred teaching to share techniques applied in higher-education language classrooms. Such a learner orientation in educating future professionals may eventually yield mutual gains in teaching, research, and industry for both the educational institution and its students. Well-educated, professionally literate, and self-confident graduates and alumni in global businesses will seek networking opportunities with their home universities and thus promote cross-cultural and transnational cooperation in classrooms, joint projects, and internships.

Keywords: ESP, learner differences, learner-centred teaching, interest, context, higher education.

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