According to Albert Einstein, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
In other words, nobody learns in the same way or at the same pace. Everyone can learn—but just not in the same manner. And that’s the basis of differentiated instruction.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leader in differentiated instruction and a professor of educational leadership, foundations and policy at the University of Virginia, defines this type of instruction as the need to consider students’ individual learning styles in order to create the best learning experience possible. This applies to training in schools, as well as in the workplace.
Research on the effectiveness of differentiated instruction shows this method benefits a wide range of students. Differentiating instruction translates into teaching the same material to all students using diverse instructional strategies—or delivering lessons at different levels of difficulty, based on the individual skills of the learner.
According to Tomlinson, instructors should differentiate instruction based on student readiness, interest or learning profile. She suggests focusing on four classroom elements: content, process, product and learning environment.
Content is what students need to learn or how students will access the information. Tomlinson suggests varying the content according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which classifies learning objectives into six levels of complexity: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.
For students who are unfamiliar with the material, instructors can use remembering and understanding tasks. For students with some mastery, instructors should ask students to apply and analyze the content. And students with high levels of mastery can complete tasks that require evaluating and creating.
In a corporate training setting—especially a virtual classroom—it is very important for online instructors to teach content that is directly related to learning objectives. Additionally, to assess whether these learning objectives are met, online instructors should include a variety of assessment tools.
ReadyTech offers numerous virtual training assessment tools, such as surveys, polls, quizzes and exams. For example, these tools allow instructors to build quizzes and tests to gauge exactly how students comprehend the topics taught in class.
Instructors can also send a quiz at the end of a lecture to reinforce the lecture concepts. This helps identify the students that may be struggling and need extra assistance. If there are questions that many students are answering incorrectly, instructors can review the correct answer at the beginning of the course. And at the end of the course, trainers can send a final exam to further reinforce the course’s topics and give students a sense of value.
Process is defined as the activities in which students engage in order to make sense of—or master the content. Because every student has a preferred learning style, successful differentiation means delivering the content to each individual student via visual, auditory, speech or kinesthetic means.
It is also important to keep in mind that not all students need the same amount of support from instructors. As a result, students may be more successful working in small groups, in pairs or individually. And while some students may benefit from one-on-one interaction with the instructor, others can progress on their own. Because of this, trainers should always offer support based on individual needs.
This type of one-on-one interaction are integral parts of ReadyTech’s virtual training software. The virtual instructor-led training (VILT) platform enables instructors to effectively teach students and allows students to collaborate and communicate with one another.
For example, ReadyTech’s Thumbnail View provides instructors with the platform to see all students’ remote desktops in a single screen at all times during the class, allowing instructors to see where students are in their exercises—or which students are struggling. Breakout Groups helps instructors break out the class into smaller groups for group assignments. And the Live View feature gives instructors the ability to zoom in on a specific student’s screen and offer individualized assistance.
Products are projects that require students to rehearse, apply and extend what they have learned in the course. This often demonstrates mastery of the content. In a training environment, it is useful to incorporate hands-on activities that offer students the opportunity to apply the material in real-life scenarios and demonstrate their grasp of the information.
ReadyTech’s virtual training labs allow students to practice with the actual software they will use in their day-to-day roles. Because learning by doing has been proven to create a much higher knowledge retention than just listening and watching, virtual training labs offer hands-on practice that help students get the real-life skills they require to succeed in their jobs. By incorporating virtual training labs into a VILT course, instructors can help students become high performers.
Learning environment refers to the physical locations and contexts in which students learn. Effective teaching and learning can only take place in optimal learning environments, which provide “a positive, productive climate” as well as “intellectually and emotionally safe, stimulating classroom communities.” In addition, these environments must allow for the diverse needs of each learner to be addressed.
In general, there are two types of learning environments: in-person and virtual. And there are pros and cons to each. With an in-person learning environment, you can experience the clear benefits that come with physically being with your students. But you can’t always control the in-person classroom. Is there enough space for all the students? Does the space allow for group discussions? Does it have enough lighting or a fast enough Internet connection?
With virtual learning environments, you are physically separated from your students, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In virtual classrooms, your students have more control over their learning environment. This means they can select the environment that allows them to focus best, such as a quiet home office or a private room at work.
And regardless of whether it's in person training vs. online training, the learning environment must encourage student engagement and participation, providing resources and support, and welcoming student feedback.
Due to the many differences in learning styles, not everyone learns in the same way. While this can sometimes make training a challenging endeavor, it is not impossible. In fact, implementing different training methods for different types of students via differentiated instruction provides numerous advantages that are well worth the investment.