The Symbiotic Learning Paradigm (SLP): A Learner-Centred Curriculum Design Approach

Finola McCarthy, Séamus Ó Tuama


The Symbiotic Learning Paradigm (SLP) has developed from practice in the Centre for Adult
Continuing Education at University College Cork (UCC). Central to this practice are the core concepts
of ‘Learner at the Centre’ and ‘Lifelong and Life-wide Learning.’ SLP offers a curriculum design
approach that is dynamic and adaptive for the rapidly changing and perpetually challenging world of
twenty-first teaching and learning in higher education. It offers a new curriculum design lens that
places the learner at the centre and focuses on the importance of collaborative co-designing
relationships within and beyond the university as a means to achieve this. Life-wide learning recognises
that people occupy different learning spaces (personal, professional, public, community) and the
lifelong learning journey provides the learner with a variety of learning experiences (Jackson, 2012).
SLP offers a flexible and reflexive approach to co-designing these varied learning experiences. As part
of the Erasmus+ ECOLHE Project: Empowering Competencies in ‘Onlife’ Learning, SLP was piloted
in six higher education contexts across Europe. Through this process SLP has been developed and
refined as a model of best practice and as evidence-based critical reflection on practice to improve
practice in higher education. Its process of inquiry into teaching and curriculum design as a ‘practically
oriented activity, conducted collegially’ through the ECOLHE project has grounded it in the scholarship
of teaching and learning (Prosser, 2008). Through the piloting process of the ECOLHE project we came
to understand that the central tenet of the SLP approach to curriculum design is ‘Learner at the Centre’
and so this is the concept that we will discuss here in the ECOLHE final conference paper.


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