Differentiated Learning

If you spend any time around the international water cooler that is Twitter, one term you are bound to hear tossed about is Differentiated Learning.

It’s a truly fantastic idea….to have learning geared towards the individual needs and abilities of students…but too often these kinds of phrases are bandied about willy-nilly by people who talk a good line, but have absolutely no plan for putting an idea into real action, so I admit I approached it with the same sort of scepticism I reserve for all “trendy” terminology.

Until this semester. All of a sudden with the hybrid learning initiative underway, I am seeing just how differentiated learning can fit into a pedagogically sound and academically realistic curriculum.

The funny thing is, in our little Communications corner of the college, we’ve been doing it all along and I didn’t realize. Every time we have “pod analysis” in Critical Thinking; every time we turn a Seminar into a series of “Stations”; every final test that we transfer to a more applied “Culminative Activity”…yes, all part of that differentiated learning.

With hybrid, I’ve just taken it up a notch. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, not by a long stretch. But giving students an opportunity to review, learn, and apply learning on their own (for my students, that is the Hybrid format) has meant that class time has been dramatically restructured. My vision is to keep working on the structure of the face-to-face time to allow for even more of the Pod/Seminar/Culminative type of learning that we already use.

Imagine, if you will, a class where students get to choose the activities that best reinforce their own learning and understanding. What might that look like? Some using technology to review material. Some in a small lecture/analysis group with the professor. Some discussing alternate approaches with peers. Some workshopping issues. Some teaching or tutoring small groups of peers. Some getting creative and applying their learning in a new way. With a bit (okay, a lot) of thought, the in-class learning could really cater to each and every individual student.

I’m not there yet. I’m not sure it will ever be perfect. But I have a vision now of what Differentiated Learning could look like. And I like what I see.

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