Well, jargon sometimes conveys important ideas like these...
Learner-centered teaching emphasizes students' roles in the classroom as participants rather than passive recipients of information.
It integrates learning experiences that enable students to be active facilitators of and take more responsibility for their own learning.
This contrasts with the historically stereotypical "sage on the stage" approach in which instructors lecture at students, hoping that they'll successfully retain and understand all the information. While lectures still have a place in teaching toolkits, they are limited in their effectiveness for helping students learn, especially in ways that lead to extended retention and deeper knowledge. One limitation is humans' naturally limited attention spans; surely all lecturers (and seminar speakers) have seen audience members (not just students!) nodding off or loosing focus in the middle of a talk. Even punctuating longer lectures with moments that engage the audience more directly can create more effective presentations--and hopefully better learning.
Active learning methods are the antidote to break the fever of "lecture syndrome." By placing students, their actions and learning at the center of the classroom, the instructor becomes the "guide on the side" who chooses activities that will help students learn. Research has convincingly shown that students (and everyone) learn better when they are actively engaged in constructing their own mental frameworks and reflecting on their own (evolving) understanding and thinking. Even more, creating a dynamic classroom in which students are energized, talking, wide awake, thinking deeply--doing something (anything!) more than taking notes, sleeping or looking at the clock or cell phones--is much more enjoyable for all involved, including the instructor. Through the use of learner-centered active teaching methods, the instructor is better able to see students' light bulbs turning on and A-Ha! moments happening in real time in the classroom. That doesn't often happen when students are listening to an instructor tell them what they should know--in part because the instructor is talking instead of listening to students explain their their thinking.
Learner-centered pedagogy lends itself particularly well to environmental and sustainability studies; indeed, it may be that these fields demand learner-centered approaches. They require students to process complex and challenging information from many disciplines; synthesize and apply knowledge to solve problems; grapple with diverse human perspectives, cultures, and scenarios; and reflect on, and possibly alter, their own personal ethics, attitudes and actions pertaining to human-environment relationships. To do those well requires that students be engaged, thoughtful participants in their own learning and be actively developing the requisite skills. Instructors of environmental and sustainability studies courses can promote higher levels of environmental literacy in their students by using a wide-range of traditional and unique learner-centered activities. For description and examples of the types of activities that are appropriate to submit for inclusion in this volume, see here.
For additional information about learner-centered teaching, consult these resources:
Geraldine O’Neill and Tim McMahon provide a great overview here (where they use the synonymous phrase student-centered teaching).
The essential book is Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer
A quick overview is Weimer's essay, Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching
Phyllis Blumberg wrote Developing Learner-Centered Teaching: A Practical Guide for Faculty. She also created a rich website with lots of info here.
A great scientific review that supports the need for more learner-centered teaching is How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, prepared by a committee of the National Research Council.
The classic resource for pedagogical ideas is Angelo and Cross's Classroom Assessment Techniques.
Another source of pedagogical ideas is Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley.
Michigan State University has a website with more resources.