Book Reviews

Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook. Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice. Chicago, Ill.: ALA Editions, 2017. 208p. Paper, $60.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-1557-8). LC 2016058814.

Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice

With the growing focus on student engagement, retention, and success in the academy, recent scholarship in librarianship has paid increasing attention to learner-centered teaching practices and how they might improve learning outcomes for information literacy instruction. University of Southern California’s Kevin Michael Klipfel and University of California at Riverside’s Dani Brecher Cook have tackled this subject in a compact book, at once theoretical and practical, that both outlines the foundations and history of learner-centered pedagogies and provides useful examples and suggestions for incorporating them in diverse teaching contexts. Drawing heavily from the work of Carl Rogers, the originator of person-centered therapy and a theorist of psychology-based educational practices as well, Klipfel and Cook provide working definitions of learner-centered pedagogy, significant learning, and other important and related concepts. They also summarize current research demonstrating the effectiveness of learner-centered teaching practices. The overall premise of the book is relatively simple, yet it is still transformative of much of what we do in teaching contexts: students retain and are able to apply more of what they learn when instructors place who they are as people at the center of the learning experience. Klipfel and Cook demonstrate how this essential principle of learner-centered pedagogy, much discussed in education theory more generally, applies specifically to librarianship and to information literacy instruction in fundamental ways. For readers relatively unfamiliar with learner-centered pedagogy, the book also includes templates for research worksheets and other resources that can be downloaded from the ALA website that are helpful for those trying to incorporate learner-centered teaching principles into their own practices for the first time.

Much of Klipfel and Cook’s book is devoted to explaining and demonstrating what it means to consider who learners are as people in a teaching context in the library. After providing an overview of the background of learner-centered pedagogy in the first chapter, the authors use the next three chapters to explore different facets of the theory such as motivation, empathy, and the relationship between learner and instructor, and they explain how these concepts can be employed in library instruction specifically. Starting with encouraging students to research what interests them, Klipfel and Cook discuss how significantly the learner’s own life and sense of self affects how and what they learn. An important undercurrent throughout the book is that of authenticity, and how this philosophical and psychological concept is central to all pedagogical practices aiming to place the learner at the center of the experience. Klipfel and Cook are careful to highlight the main points of the theories discussed in a bullet-pointed box at the beginning of each chapter. They also take pains to ground the theoretical throughout the text by providing real-world examples of each of the concepts at work as well as suggestions for using them in reference transactions, library instruction sessions, and other library contexts. These efforts, combined with the index, make the book easy to browse and the relatively rich concepts discussed easy to review.

Klipfel and Cook discuss the significance of the relationship between the learner and the instructor in their fourth, and much shorter, chapter. Of all the sections of the book, this one is the most abstract. Basing much of their discussion again on Rogers, Klipfel and Cook discuss the importance of sharing personal experiences with students and validating the personal experiences of students, but they provide less explanation of how and when to do this effectively than they do with other concepts. The authors also describe how D.K. Maxfield’s concept of “counselor librarianship” supports the idea of authentic personal engagement with students, but, again, the actual implementation of this concept in instruction in hopes of creating a meaningful learning experience for the student is less clear than that of some of the other ideas explored in the book.

In their fifth chapter, Klipfel and Cook cover recent scholarship on the growth mindset and how it aligns well with learner-centered teaching practices. Although relatively brief, this section also includes suggestions for fostering a growth mindset in teaching sessions and reflective questions for instructors wishing to encourage a growth mindset in students. Scholarship on growth mindset is easy to find in contemporary education literature, but Klipfel and Cook’s insights on its application to librarianship are particularly interesting since they show how the focus on “process” in growth mindset theory is uniquely suited to the instruction of how to conduct research.

Klipfel and Cook also briefly discuss current “technologies” such as clickers, online research guides, and chat and how one might determine whether the use of a new technology is truly learner-centered. Whether librarians agree with how Klipfel and Cook evaluate these technologies, the criteria provided for assessment of technology more generally are undoubtedly helpful as librarians seek to understand which technologies they might employ in efforts to make instruction sessions and reference encounters more learner-centered and which provide novelty but fail to really engage learners.

The book concludes with a discussion of how learner-centered pedagogy may be relevant to all aspects of librarianship, not just information literacy instruction and reference. Klipfel and Cook briefly cover how collection development, outreach, and other areas of librarianship not directly covered in the book might be impacted by the adoption of a learner-centered approach. Less a detailed exploration than a suggestion for further study, this section evokes a way of practicing librarianship that could be illuminating even for librarians without instruction or reference responsibilities. The authors also provide directions for further reading mapped onto each chapter of the book, which, added to the references included in the chapters themselves, will give librarians interested in the topics raised and their application in academic librarianship many avenues for further research.

The personal anecdotes, approachable tone, and readable style of the book coupled with its practical suggestions, downloadable templates, and clearly outlined chapters make it ideal reading for library school students working on instructional design projects or wishing to learn more about currents in information literacy instruction in academic libraries. Practicing librarians will also find much of value, particularly those looking to improve student engagement with the library or with research and those tasked with developing programs to promote student success. By combining the theory of learner-centered pedagogy with plenty of real-world examples and strategies, Klipfel and Cook have created a useful, absorbing book with the potential for great impact in academic librarianship.—Melissa Anderson, Southern Oregon University

Copyright Melissa Anderson

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