Scholarly Technical Education Publication Series (STEPS) Vol. 2

Factors Influencing the Implementation of StudentCentered Learning in Malaysian TVET Institutions


    Nik Azida binti Abd Ghani
    Head, Research and Innovation Unit
    [email protected]

    Tengku Ahmad Badrul Shah bin Raja Hussin
    Assoc. Professor
    [email protected]
    Politeknik Ungku Omar, Malaysia

    Nor Asiah binti Ab Ghani
    Department of Commerce
    Politeknik Kota Bharu, Malaysia
    [email protected]

    Tengku MA
    Department of Community Medicine
    Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
    [email protected]

    Siti Rohani binti Hj. Ali
    Department of Commerce
    Politeknik Tuanku Sultanah Bahiyah, Malaysia
    [email protected]


The quality of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) provider and the program it offers is assessed by the learning outcomes or ability of students to carry out their expected roles and responsibility in society. Outcome-based education, that emphasizes the use of the studentcentered learning (SCL) has been implemented in Malaysian Polytechnics since 2010, particularly in responding to the requirements of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) and the need to produce graduates with knowledge, skills and attitude that meet the changing industry needs. This study was conducted mainly to determine the problems faced by faculty members in implementing SCL and identify the levels of SCL implementation, perceived students’ readiness towards SCL and administrative support. The instrument used was adapted and modified from a readiness assessment tool proposed by Mercado (2008). A total of 609 faculty members from 6 Malaysian Polytechnics have participated in the online survey. The findings revealed that SCL implementation was rated at high level while perceived students’ readiness towards SCL and administrative support were rated at moderate level. Problems faced in implementing SCL can be categorized into 3 factors, namely, constraints, competencies of faculty members and environmental conditions. The recommendations encourage polytechnics to explore and practice a more student-oriented teaching strategy and techniques of SCL particularly in large classes. Collaborative efforts among faculty members should be encouraged to reduce duplication and enable more effective sharing of knowledge and skills between seniors and apprentices. SCL can also be considered as an effective approach to encourage deep learning and student learning engagement.

Keywords: Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Student-Centered Learning, Outcome-based Education, Malaysian Polytechnics


The quality of TVET providers and the programs they offer is often assessed by the learning outcomes or ability of students to carry out their expected roles and responsibilities in the workplace. One of the reasons for poor employment outcome is the weak link between vocational education and labor market (Martinez-Fernandez & Choi, 2013, p. 165). In the context of Malaysian polytechnics that encourages closer linkages to the industry, the competencies needed in the human capital or workforce provided by polytechnics graduates may be reflected in the curriculum. However, issues of supply and demand of graduates in TVET remain a challenge to polytechnics. In response to the needs to produce graduates with knowledge, skills and attitude that meet the changing industry, outcome-based education (OBE) has been implemented in Malaysian Polytechnics since 2010.

OBE calls for teaching and learning activities that engage students more in their learning or student-centered learning (SCL) instead of traditional teaching and learning activities that are more teacher-centered (Spady, 1994). According to Johnson, Kimball, Melendez, Myers, Rhea and Travis (2009), sources of resistance to implementing SCL pedagogy are individuals attempting the change (lecturers), the administration and the students. Hence, this study was proposed to examine the three aspects in implementing SCL.

Specifically, this study was conducted to achieve the following research objectives:

  1. To identify the levels of SCL implementation, perceived students’ readiness towards SCL and administrative support.
  2. To identify the problems faced by the faculty members in implementing SCL.

Literature Review

It is important to develop students to become educated workers who utilize their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems and to meet the challenges of a new-world economy (Friedman, 2007). An effective technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system within a country can serve as an impetus to boost the value of the nation and its economy in the global marketplace (MacDonald, Nink & Duggan, 2010). Hence, TVET has to respond to the competence needs of the labor market and create a competent, motivated and adaptable workforce. With this ultimate goal in mind, OBE has been implemented in Malaysian Polytechnics since 2010, particularly responding to the requirements of Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) and borrowing the policy from Hong Kong University. In Hong Kong, OBE has been adopted as part of a distinctive approach to quality reform in higher education (Kennedy, 2011).

Outcome-based education is a ‘design down’ approach to curriculum development (Spady, 1994) which start from what students are expected to learn, focus on teaching and learning environment and the usage of assessment to measure the achievement of learning. In OBE, the focus is on what the students should learn expressed in the form of learning outcomes. This learning outcome will guide in the curriculum design (Spady, 1994). OBE is a method of curriculum design and teaching that emphasizes on what the students are able to do after they are taught certain subjects or topics (Acharya, 2003) and not on what the teacher or lecturer wants to achieve (Zakaria & Wan Fadzilah, 2010). Since OBE focuses on what the students should know, understand and become (Zakaria & Wan Fadzilah, 2010), lecturers need to focus on the outcome. The focus on the learning outcomes has changed the emphasis from traditional teacher-centered viewpoint to student-centered learning (Adam, 2004).

According to Davis (2003), in OBE, students are more responsible for their own learning because they are clear about what they are going to achieve. OBE also play an important part in selecting appropriate educational strategies. The educational strategies that should be chosen are those that support the learning outcomes. Therefore, OBE promotes student-centered learning approach to learning and teaching (Davis, 2003).

Student-centered Learning

Lecturing has been a common form of teaching in higher education (Lammers & Murphy, 2002), which is characterized by little student activity (Kember, 2009) or teacher-centered. Teacher-centered approach is primarily concerned with the transmission of knowledge or content, more than on student processing (Harkema & Schout, 2008). It has been a concern to encourage lecturers in higher education institutions to shift from teacher-centered form of learning towards more studentcentered approaches (Kember, 2009).

For a learning process to take place, the learners must be responsible for their own learning process as much as the teacher responsible for their teaching. Studentcentered learning describes ways of thinking about learning and teaching that emphasize student responsibility for such activities as planning learning, interacting with teachers and other students, researching, and assessing learning (Cannon, 2000). It also concentrates on what learners do, and why they think they are doing it, rather than what the teacher does (Biggs, 1999).

Most researchers agreed that SCL is based on the philosophy that student is at the heart of the learning process (Attard, Di Ioio, Geven & Santa, 2010a) and hence, call for the shift in focus from lecturer to the students. SCL enable learners to develop their own skills and understanding (Department of Education, 1997)in contrast to the traditional teacher-centered that tends to consider students as passive receptors of information that need not to be encouraged to participate actively (Attard et al., 2010a).

SCL focuses on changes in the pedagogical methods used and in making learning and educational processes more flexible to cater for the different types of students, with each students within each group having different needs and points of view (Attard et al., 2010a). Implementation of SCL approach may take the form of group project work, problem-based learning, case analysis, role play, group presentenation, group discussions and other active learning activities.Barriers to student-centered learning in higher education include individual faculty concerns, administrative concerns and student resistance (Johnson et al., 2009). Students should have the readiness towards SCL.

Perceived Students’ Readiness towards SCL

It may be difficult to implement SCL if students are not ready towards SCL. In a student-centered approach, the diversity of characteristics of students is considered (Harkema & Schout, 2008). Many researchers found that students’ active involvement in the learning process enhances learning (Smart & Csapo, 2007). The level of student acceptance of the SCL approach may vary based on prior experiences and the extent to which lecturers are prepared to act as facilitators in the learning process of the students (Attard et al., 2010a).

SCL affects the design and flexibility of curriculum and course content and focuses on the interactivity of the learning process (Attard et al., 2010a). Lecturers should proactively, modify curricula, teaching methods and learning activities and classroom routines to address the diverse needs of individual students and differences in the level of readiness, interest and modes of learning (Tomlinson, 1999). In this particular study, perceived readiness of students towards SCL refers to the readiness of students to undergo SCL as perceived by lecturers.

Administrative Support

To ensure successful implementation of OBE, administrators, educators, parents, lecturers and students must be involved (Acharya, 2003). In Malaysia, the focus on outcome-based education serves national goals because of the links with national higher education strategies (Zakaria & Wan Fadzilah, 2010). Students should be given adequate time and assistance so that each student can reach the maximum potential (Acharya, 2003). Facilities that are needed to successfully implement SCL should also be put in place in the institution.

Although SCL approach is highly pedagogical in nature and should be implemented by individual lecturers, the institutional changes needs to be organized, consistent and transparent (Attard et al., 2010a). Administrators should provide support that may facilitate collegial environment that may help lead to effective teaching and learning (Kardos, Johnson, Peske, Kauffman & Liu, 2001). Administrators may play their role through direct and indirect actions such as providing time, space, and resources for lecturers to work together, and being responsive to lecturers’ changing needs (Zwerger & Greninger, 2012).

Lecturers need to undergo training or professional development in the application of SCL approach as it involves an ongoing reflexive process for the lecturers, in which they are engaged in ‘thinking about their thinking’, in order to improve their conventional teaching pedagogy (Diekelmann & Lampet, 2004) and it requires continuous change, effort, reflection and updating (Attard et al., 2010a). A study conducted by Lavoie and Rosman (2007) finds that faculty development should be included as an important part of the scholarship of teaching and parallel the active student-centered learning used by students to enable lifelong learning among faculty. In this study, administrative support refers to the commitment of the administrator in providing training and other resources needed to implement SCL.

Problems in Implementing SCL

Factors that may hinder the implementation of SCL in the teaching and learning includes time constraint, resources such as textbooks, language barrier, size of classes and examination assessment requirement (Gladys, Zacharia, Gracious & Nicholas, 2012). SCL may be considered as time consuming, hence compromising the syllabus that needs to be covered (Gladys et al., 2012). In this particular study, factors such as time and financial constraints as well as excessive workload, lack of experience and skills or knowledge in SCL were included.


The instrument used in this study was adapted and modified from a readiness assessment tool proposed by Mercado (2008). The instrument which used a Likert scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), consists of 17 items assessing implementation of SCL, 4 items measuring perceived students’ readiness and 5 items measuring administrative support. Among the items used to measure the construct of implementation of SCL were: (1) I use discussion as a teaching strategy for the subject that I teach, and (2) I facilitate and monitor the suitable interactions among my students. Among the items used to measure the construct of perceived students’ readiness were: (1) I believe that students are able to complete their group assignment with minimum supervision, and (2) I believe that students are able to search for information on their own to solve problems. To measure administrative support, two of the items used were: (1) The institution provides opportunity for professional development to help lecturers implement student-centered learning, and (2) The institution is committed towards SCL.

Convenience sampling method was used as the instrument was distributed online to all faculty members of 6 polytechnics and participation is based on voluntary basis. Within a period of two weeks, the time span allocated for each polytechnic, a total of 609 faculty members from the polytechnicsparticipated in the survey.

Analysis of Results

The results of the data analyses are presented in the sections below.

Demographic Variables

Table 1 shows the profile of the respondents based on their gender and teaching experience. The majority of the respondents (406 lecturers) were female which accounted for two-third of the total respondents. About 32.7% of the respondents had teaching experience between 6 to 10 years, and only 14.1% of the respondents had teaching experience of less than 3 years.

Table 1: Demographic Variables

Reliability Tests

The result of reliability tests on the scales to measure implementation of SCL, perception of lecturers on students’ readiness towards SCL and support by administrator show that Cronbach alpha values were .922, .717 and .868, respectively. Therefore, it can be concluded that internal consistency of the data was achieved.

Levels of SCL Implementation, Perceived Students’ Readiness and Administrative Support

To determine the levels of SCL implementation, perceived students’ readiness towards SCL and administrative support, means and frequency distributions for the three constructs were computed as shown in Table 2. SCL implementation was rated high (mean value of 3.86 from a scale of 5, SD = .54) whileperceived students’ readiness towards SCL and support by administrator were valued at moderate level (mean values of 3.59 and 3.32, respectively, from a scale of 5). The frequency distributions revealed that majority of respondent rated high level of SCL implementation (68.0%) and perceived students’ readiness (53.5%). However, administrative support was rated at moderate level by most of the respondents (65.2%).

Table 2: Levels and frequency distributions of variables under study

Descriptive Analysis on Problems in Implementing SCL

Exploratory factor analysis was carried out to analyze the 11 items used to examine the problems faced by faculty members in implementing SCL. Using principal component analysis with Varimax rotation, the items loaded on 3 factors as shown inTable 3. The first factor emphasized on the constraints faced by faculty members in implementing SCL, while the second factor focused on faculty members’ competencies in SCL. The third factor emphasized on the environmental conditions that affect the practicality or suitability of implementing SCL in polytechnics.

Table 3: Rotated Component Matrix

Table 4 shows the descriptive analysis on each factor and problems in implementing SCL.Constraints were found as the main factor (mean = 3.91, SD = .68) that hinder the faculty members from implementing SCL, followed by environmental conditions (mean = 3.66, SD = .68). The descriptive analysis of each items revealed that large number of students (mean = 4.08, SD = .941)had been rated as the highest problem in implementing SCL, followed by excessive workload (mean = 4.01, SD = .900) and facilities constraints (mean = 4.00, SD = .838). Approach not suitable to be implemented in polytechnic has been rated lowest (mean = 2.78, SD = 1.018).

Table 4: Descriptive analysis on problems in implementing SCL

Conclusions and Recommendations

Descriptive analysis revealed that SCL implementation was rated high while perceived students’ readiness towards SCL and administrative support were valued at moderate level. Using exploratory factor analysis, the problems faced by faculty members in implementing SCL may be categorized into 3 factors i.e. constraints, competencies of the faculty members in SCL and environmental conditions. Large class size and excessive workload had been found to be the main factors that hinder faculty members from implementing SCL.

Students’ readiness towards SCL, which was rated at moderate level, can be improved by giving students more exposure on more student-oriented teaching and learning techniques. Students may be more receptive if they are more informed about the advantages and effectiveness of SCL. Administrative support, which had been rated at moderate level, may be improved by providing the resources to facilitate SCL implementation and training to equip faculty members with the knowledge and skills needed. Those who have attended training or courses in SCL may also conduct inhouse training to others.

Since large class size was considered the major problem in implementing SCL, techniques of SCL in large classes should be explored and practiced. Seminars on SCL best practices may also help the faculty members share their experiences, skills and knowledge to overcome this problem. Excessive workload was also considered a major problem in implementing SCL since faculty members did not have enough time to plan their teaching and learning using SCL. Collaborative efforts among faculty members may be encouraged to reduce duplicate in efforts and to enable sharing of knowledge and skills especially between seniors and novices.

The biggest challenge in the implementation of SCL is in changing the mindset of students and teachers to better accept the approach (Attard et al., 2010b). Students should be encouraged to participate actively in their learning. Innovative methods of teaching or practical ways in which SCL can be implemented, should be encouraged. Ideas to implement SCL should take into account the diversity of students and the large size of classes. Although the policy of implementation of SCL or OBE in Malaysian polytechnics has been a top-down approach, lecturers who are actually the implementers should have their own initiatives and this should be expanded or spread by means of sharing of best practices and ideas. This is consistent with the statement by Attard el al. (2010b) that both top and bottom levels have different roles to play and neither should be over-emphasized.

SCL, under the philosophy of OBE, may be considered as an effective approach to encourage deep learning and student learning engagement. The factors that may discourage lecturers from implementing SCL should be looked into to enhance the implementation of student-centered learning. The findings of this study provided constructive feedback in the effort to actively implement SCL. Future research should cover more Malaysian polytechnics or other higher education institutions.


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