Student-Centered Learning and Andragogy in Criminal Justice Studies

The majority of research and literature suggested that student-centered learning activities are interactive assessments designed around clearly defined learning objectives and with thoughtful designed class activities, and critical thinking skills develop. In a study by Gutierrez, Reeves-Gutierrez, & Helms (2012), they discovered that student-centered learning andragogy promotes self-reflection, diversity awareness, and enhance awareness of student’s problem solving skills to apply criminal justice theories to real world problems in a meaningful way that improved interpersonal skills. Smart, Witt, and Scott (2012) equated student-centered learning to constructivists learning and teaching theory. Constructivist learning theory is relevant to student-centered andragogy given that meaningful learning occurs through active participation if the process of discovering your own answers. Both of these studies support student-centered learning by active learning that promotes the development of critical thinking skills; however, neither study reported learning outcomes that would in fact show scholastic improvement.

Emerging Themes

Several themes emerged on the benefits of using collaborative learning and teaching andragogy. Many of the studies noted active construction of knowledge, learning by inquiry, develop communication skills with diverse peers, a sense of belonging, and creating a community of learners through teamwork. Rockell (2009) was looking to find best ways to challenge students to critically exam their personal assumptions and beliefs so they could develop critical thinking skills by experiential learning. The article by Spiteri (2013) on student-centered learning also supports other research that using small group discussions, and peer-to-peer learning promoted ownership for learning. This study has limitations with no learning outcomes measured to support the conclusion; however, students felt they improved their critical thinking skills by applying criminal justice theory to a real situation.

Ke and Kwa (2013), and McGill (2013) provided strong evidence that student-centered learning has high student satisfaction rates because the students felt they had input into the learning activities and grading. Small group case studies have the ability to enhance skills in areas such as communication, presentation, critical thinking, and analysis. These are all critical skills that lead to students becoming independent self-directed learners. The findings of student satisfaction in different studies, as well as this style of learning promotes critical thinking skills adds credibility to the other research and literature. Either study provided learning outcomes to measure critical thinking development.

Kim (2014) further stated that problem-based learning emphasizes the development and promotion of critical thinking and problem solving on criminology theory using student-centered learning and teaching concepts. The articles reviewed all have a theme that when students feel involved in their learning they take personal ownership and enjoy studying to find their own answers. These are the types of activities that promotes problem solving and ownership of learning with the student.

Smart, Witt, and Scott (2012) observed that using inductive and active learning class activities such as class brainstorming sessions, case studies, and oral presentation of findings, and allowing students to create their own rubric, that students began the process of critical analysis and were moving towards problem solving complex issues on their own. Student-center activities were popular with students as the class transferred from professor-centered to student-centered learning and teaching.

Learning Outcomes

In the study by Ke and Kwa (2013), they noted that retention is a major issue in higher learning. The online student-centered classes have high student satisfaction predicator of a positive impact on retention and graduation rates as well. The limitations of Ke and Kwa (2013) study, is that it did not investigate or measure learning outcomes as to the effectiveness of transfer of learning with student-centered learning. Many of the studies and articles indicated high student satisfaction rates with classes designed taught using different student-centered strategies but none of the research or articles reported the learning outcomes associated with student-centered learning.

Not researching learning outcomes, is an identified gap in the current literature on criminal justice student-centered learning and teaching methods. Without learning outcome data included in the study, one cannot conclusively argue that meaningful measured learning occurred let alone the development of critical thinking skills. Student satisfaction does not mean that learning transferred by student-centered strategies.

The Need For Criminal Justice Andragogy Research

This literature provides evidence that undergraduate criminal justice students develop ownership for their learning and develop problem-solving skills when the class first introduces criminal justice theory and concepts using professor-center learning at the start of the semester. The evidence shows establishing a foundation of knowledge of criminal justice theories and concepts makes for a rewarding academic experience as the class transitions to student-centered learning activities as a way to promote critical thinking skills. By the nature of collaborative learning associated with student-centered teaching strategies the classes becomes a welcoming environment that is inclusive and welcomes diversity among students.

The literature shows a gap in research on student-centered learning outcomes. Future research needs to provide evidence to the criminal justice discipline on the effectiveness of student-centered learning on promoting critical thinking skills by investigating learning outcomes. Without the data on learning outcomes, there is no scientific evidence that student-centered learning in criminal justice improves critical thinking skills. The literature concludes that this learning and teaching strategy has strong student satisfaction rates and is popular; however, there is no evidence of scholastic improvement on critical thinking skills measured by learning outcomes. Before the criminal justice discipline promotes certain learning and teaching styles as best practices within the discipline, additional research is needed that provides data on learning outcomes to determine if in fact student-centered learning shows higher scholastic achievement and lessons are retained after the completion of studies compared to professor-centered learning and teaching strategies.


Gutierrez, R. S., Reeves-Gutierrez, D., & Helms, R. (2012). Service learning and criminal justice students: An assessment of the effects of co-curricular pedagogy on graduation rates. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 23(3), 356-380. doi:10.1080/10511253.2011.590514

Ke, F., & Kwa, D. (2013). Constructs of student-centered online learning on learner satisfaction of a diverse online student body: A structural equation modeling. Journal Of Educational Computing Research, 48(1), 97-122. doi:10.2190/EC.48.1.e

Kim, D-Y. (2014, July). Adopting problem-based learning in criminology and criminal justice education: Challenge and response. Sage Open, 4, 1-14. doi: 10.1177/2158244014542086

McGill, S. (2013). The social network and the legal environment of business: An opportunity for student-centered learning. Journal Of Legal Studies Education, 30(1), 45-97. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1722.2013.01114.x

Rockell, B. A. (2009). Challenging what they all know: Integrating the real/reel world into criminal justice pedagogy. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 20(1), 75-92. doi:10.1080/10511250802680373

Smart, K. L., Witt, C., & Scott, J. P. (2012). Toward learner-centered teaching: An inductive approach. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 392-403. doi:10.1177/1080569912459752

Spiteri, D. (2013). How is a service development simulation exercise useful? A student-centered perspective. Research In Education, (90), 1-14. doi:10.7227/RIE.90.1.1

About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.