ERIC Identifier: ED338295
Publication Date: 1991-08-00
Author: Prager, Carolyn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Learning Centers for the 1990's. ERIC Digest.
In order to realize their academic missions and respond to state demands for
access, assessment, and accountability, the nation's community colleges, along
with all other institutions of higher education, are focusing increasingly on
the enhancement of academic support services. Learning centers are being used on
two- and four-year campuses alike to test students at entry, provide learning
assistance supplementary to the classroom, and retest students to demonstrate
their acquisition of basic skills. The current emphasis on documenting
institutional outcomes, however, requires that colleges document the acquisition
of higher order skills. Learning centers will need, therefore, to reconfigure
from a predominantly remedial mode serving the underprepared to a more
comprehensive mode serving all students.
In addition to discussing some common learning center models, this digest
calls for further inquiry into the conceptual bases upon which successful
learning centers are predicated and looks at roles learning centers may play in
LEARNING CENTER MODELS
Learning centers exist in various
forms under various names on different campuses. They share the goal of
assisting students to become more efficient and effective learners and typically
provide tutorial assistance in academic fields, learning skill development, and
instructional resources, including computers and software (Lauridsen, 1980).
Garner's 1980 vision of the comprehensive community college learning assistance
center incorporated an individualized program of basic skills instruction, a
comprehensive delivery mechanism to aid handicapped students from identification
to job placement, and library and audiovisual services. Currently, three models
are most common: learning resource center based programs, discipline-based
support centers, and stand-alone learning centers.
Learning Resource Centers (LRC'S). More has been written about the LRC or
library-based format than any other learning center model. In a 1988 survey of
1,276 community colleges by the Community and Junior College Libraries Section
of the Association of Research Libraries, 38% of the 336 respondents stated that
their libraries performed as learning centers (Dubin, 1988). The survey also
revealed that 35% offered remedial assistance; 33% provided computer labs; 27%
made instructional design services available to faculty; and 23.5% provided
As reported in the literature, the learning resource center tends to
emphasize two main functions (Arp and Kenny, 1990; Pohrte, 1990; Raufman and
Others, 1990). The first, not surprisingly, is the provision of traditional
research, reference, and bibliographic support to students and faculty. The
second is the use of non-print media to bolster learning, especially through
in-house and distance telecourse instruction. A third form of involvement
represented to a lesser extent in the literature is the provision of
developmental and literacy education, especially through computer-assisted
instruction and tutorial support (Raufman, and Others, 1990).
Discipline-Based Support Centers. The vast majority of American colleges and
universities provide some sort of structured learning assistance to their
students. Though the literature suggests that the discipline-oriented academic
support model is found more often at senior institutions, specialized academic
support structures exist at some two-year colleges as well. Two examples are the
algebra and calculus microcomputer laboratory at De Anza College, relying
heavily on carefully monitored computer-based instruction, with the computer
functioning as tutor and skills builder (Avery, 1985) and the Life Science
Learning Center at Los Angeles Valley College, providing a more comprehensive
learning assistance environment in which learning requirements can be diagnosed
and individual needs provided for at remedial, reinforcement, and enrichment
levels (Samuels, 1984).
Stand-Alone Learning Centers. Stand-alone centers are independent or
quasi-independent units which are not extensions of other institutional
functions such as libraries or student services programs. At two-year colleges,
stand-alone centers tend to focus primarily but not exclusively upon the
remedial and developmental needs of that part of an open-access population most
deficient in basic and study skills. For example, the South Plains College
Learning Center provides a full-range of academic support, including assessment
of entry-level skills in reading, writing, and mathematics; compensatory courses
in these skill areas; tutoring; an independent learning lab; and miscellaneous
services such as study skills seminars, student success courses, writing and
math labs, and tutor training activities (Platt, 1987). Though most of the
center's clients are underprepared students, the South Plains Center reaches
further into the general student population than the typical learning center
through the use of an independent study laboratory. Using electronic media,
microcomputers, and over 600 software programs, it offers all students the
opportunity to advance through a knowledge base ranging in complexity from basic
grammar to organic chemistry.
APPLICATION OF LEARNING THEORY
Efforts to establish a new
learning center or to expand and consolidate the range of services currently
provided should have a solid theoretical foundation. In some colleges, mastery
learning theory underpins the work of the learning center, while others
implement andragogical approaches or focus on learning styles assessment and
A notable example in terms of a clearly defined conceptual basis is the
"Tenore plan" employed at Bunker Hill Community College in the 1980's. This plan
incorporated a hierarchy of learning objectives, assessment of learning styles,
a systems approach to course development corresponding to student learning
styles, and delivery modes compatible with a variety of learning styles without
preference for one over another (Tenore and Dunbar, 1979). The "Tenore plan"
offered a learning center-based approach to individualized remedial and
college-level instruction based on learning style assessment.
The Tenore model may warrant further scrutiny, in terms of both theory and
implementation, as all sectors of higher education gear up to respond to the
growing demand for outcomes assessment in the 1990's, and the consequent need to
extend learning assistance beyond the remedial and developmental. Learning
centers will be challenged to offer more comprehensive services to a broader
range of learners than ever before.
The learning center of the 1990's should incorporate:
and enrichment activities for students in college-level courses, especially
those using computer-assisted, audiovisual, interactive video, and other
services to assess students' entry-level skills, learning styles, career
aptitudes and interests; to provide make-up testing for all classes; and to
measure a variety of learning outcomes;
in library and research skills;
and non-print resources for telecourses and other forms of distance education;
services for students seeking academic enrichment, as well as those experiencing
academic difficulty in any course;
full range of services for underprepared college students, commencing with
skills assessment at entry, basic skills courses, self-paced individualized
instruction, and exit testing following the completion of developmental
coursework or activities;
instruction for all students in such areas as speed reading, critical reading,
study skills, college survival skills, and time management; and
In the meantime, the literature about existing learning centers does not do
justice to the broad scope of the activities currently being undertaken on the
nation's campuses related to learning assistance. This is a serious omission at
a time when we need to learn more from each other about what works well with a
diverse group of learners and why these practices succeed.
Arp, Lori, and Kenny, Kathleen. "Vital
Connections: Bibliographic Instruction Theory in the LRC." In Holleman, 13-22.
Avery, Chris, And Others. A Microcomputer Lab for Algebra and Calculus.
Cupertino, CA: DeAnza College, 1985. 10 pp. (ED 263 929)
Campbell, Martha. Mastery Learning in the College Learning Center. Paper
presented at the National Association for Remedial/Developmental Studies
Conference, Little Rock, AK, March 1983. 19 pp. (ED 247 592)
Dubin, Eileen. "A Survey of User Education Programs in Community College
LRCs." In Holleman, 81-90.
Garner, Ambrose. "A Comprehensive Community College Model for Learning
Assistance Centers." In Lauridsen, 19-32.
Holleman, Margaret (Ed.) The Role of the Learning Resources Center in
Instruction. New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 71. San Francisco,
CA: Jossey-Bass, 1990.
Lauridsen, Kurt V. Examining the Scope of Learning Centers. New Directions
for College Learning Assistance, Number 1. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1980.
Platt, Gail M. A Commitment to Literacy: The Learning Center's Annual Report,
1986-87. Levalland, TX: South Plains College, 1987. 46 pp. (ED 297 795)
Pohrte, Theodore W. "Telecourses: Instructional Design for Non-Traditional
Students." In Holleman, 55-62.
Raufman, Lisa, And Others. "The Instructional Role of Two-Year College
LRC's." In Holleman, 103-109.
Samuels, Edward. "Life Science Learning Center, Los Angeles Valley College."
Paper presented at the National Conference of the League for Innovation in the
Community College, Dallas, TX, October 1984. 13 pp. (ED 253 289)
Tenore, Elizabeth J., and Dunbar, Shirley E. One Step Beyond: A Systems
Approach to Delivering Individualized Instruction. Pittsfield, MA: Berkshire
Community College, 1979.