Should Occupational Therapy School Use Student-Centered Learning?

In a recent student and new grad discussion group, I read an insightful comment about one OT student’s experience in occupational therapy school. They shared their frustration with how faculty made it a point that their role was to be mentors and a support system and less of a “teacher-student” role. The student felt that they were paying high tuition and expected to receive teacher instruction, not the other way around. It seemed to be less teacher-based instruction and more student-centered instead.

So should OT school instruction be teacher-lead learning (TLL), student-centered learning (SCL), both, or something else entirely?

My Experience

My experience with OT school was a mix of both and more of the teacher-lead method, at least initially. As we gained more OT knowledge of theory, models, research, and professional reasoning, we were more expected to teach-back to our peers.

In my undergraduate, most of my courses were the teacher-lead method. You show up to lecture, take notes, and take an exam or show up in the lab. To me, this was very passive and the downside to this is if you do not like the professor’s teaching style, you may have a more difficult time staying engaged and paying attention.

I can empathize with this student as some subjects or topics should be TLL than SCL as students may miss some important points, use outdated research, or teach incorrectly altogether (although I imagine this is rare). I remember one lecture that I was responsible for teaching to the class – inattention and neglect for CVA. It was quite a dense topic to be first exposed to and expected to teach the class. Although it was not easy and took a lot of my time, it is one the OT topics that I have a good understanding of and remember because I wanted to get it right and not contradict myself why teaching the class. Keep in mind that this was later in the semester and not the beginning after we learned the type of format that the professor wanted us to use.

Pros & Cons

What are some benefits to SCL and why is it becoming more common? How about in OT school?

“In a student-centered classroom, students need to act pro-actively in the learning process and not respond passively to lectures; instead, they need to communicate, appreciate, and learn with their peers to get all the necessary information needed” (Jones, 2012).

In contrast, “the benefits from the SCL teaching method are not without potential drawbacks, which may include lecturer lack experience and training in using ICT with SCL teaching method, limited infrastructure, and greater student negative attitudes than would occur in a normal classroom” (Danner & Pessu, 2013).


In my research, many articles attribute or suggest the increase in SCL due to technologies such as the Internet — making access to information easier for students. So in addition to textbooks, students can now do a Google search or research online for information that may be more even up to date than textbooks.

One issue I can see is SCL is encouraged before students are necessarily equipped with the tools to research, synthesize information, and teach — they may burn out or become overwhelmed.

The OT Practitioner.

The role of OT practitioners, as is many other allied health professionals is to educate clients. So unlike undergraduate courses where students may be just “fine” with more passive methods of learning, one can argue that SCL prepares OT students for becoming OT practitioners in the real world. Occupational therapists educate not only their clients, but the general public about the profession of occupational therapy.

The challenges come when educators have to find the balance between which method to use and more importantly when to implement more SCL. As a general rule of thumb, SCL should not be implemented at the beginning of OT school when students lack a foundation of basic concepts, theory, and framework for practice.

Of course, each school may differ — some may be more TLL and some more SCL. More than likely, the school will use both TLL and SCL. As a pre-OT or even OT student, anticipating that you will be expected to participate in SCL is important or you may become frustrated with the program altogether.

What can you or your peers do if you feel like you lack the support to provide SCL or if there is too much of it compared to TLL? You can speak with your student representative, OT club, and even your faculty advisor if you are comfortable. Reach out to other cohorts and ask about their experience. In graduate school, especially — it can be frustrating when you can’t simply “drop a course” or choose a different professor because, well you have to take these courses or don’t have any other professor as a choice. Find a way to keep an open discussion between student and faculty so that as a student, you do not feel like you are not getting your “money’s worth” of education.

I imagine that issue will be ongoing for many years to come for students. I don’t have an answer, but will be thinking about this more in my content, blog, and videos.

I wish you all success in your OT student journey and career.


Danner, R. B. & Pessu C. O. A. (2013). A Survey of ICT Competencies among Students in Teacher Preparation Programmes at the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 12, 33-49.

Jones T. (2012). Community In The Classrooom: An Approach To Curriculum And Instruction As A Means For The Development Of Student Cognitive, Social And Emotional Engagement In A High School Classroom. Doctoral Dissertation.