My question in this entry is whether Differentiated Instruction (DI) can be justified for the opportunity it offers to kick-start and scaffold the process of becoming a self-directed learner.

Differentiated instruction (DI) comprises a set of instructional strategies that teachers employ selectively to address the diverse learning needs of students. For a more complete account, kindly click here.

DI is controversial. For example, consider this quotation from Colin Everest: “Differentiation is just another pressure meted out by managers… Apparently I must use a variety of methods at every turn and I must present every topic through a variety of methods and approaches.” It can create an extra burden for teachers and so needs to be justified with compelling evidence that it is a worthwhile investment of teachers’ energy and time, and compares favourably with alternative approaches in terms of impact on learning.

However, leaving that debate aside, I propose that DI may merit consideration because of its relatedness to Self-Directed Learning (SDL).

In adopting DI, a teacher proactively plans varied approaches to…

  • what students need to learn,
  • how they will learn it, and
  • how they can express what they have learned

…in order to increase the likelihood that each student will learn as much as he or she can as efficiently as possible.

(Tomlinson, 2003)

By analogy, I contend that, in becoming self-directed a learner takes charge of…

  • what s/he needs to learn,
  • how s/he will learn it, and
  • how s/he can express what s/he has learned

…in order to increase the likelihood that s/he will learn as much as s/he can as efficiently as possible.

My portrayal of SDL is not too distant from Knowles’ (1975) definition of it as “a process by which individuals take the initiative, with our without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

In both DI and SDL, the element of choice is central, and informed choice at that. The difference is that in DI, it is the teacher making choices, and in SDL it is primarily the learner’s responsibility.

To make effective choices, the teacher or learner needs to be aware of the learner’s…

  • readiness to learn at particular levels of challenge,
  • degree of interest in learning topics,
  • background factors such as culture, gender and educational heritage, and
  • (more controversially) learning styles.

Following the learning, there is reflection and evaluation by the teacher and learner, and adjustments to future learning are made as a consequence.

I envisage teachers using DI in the early years of instruction, with the teacher making their decisions transparent to learners, followed by progressive transfer of control to learners as the students advance through their school careers. Perhaps in the last years of secondary/high school, the learners may be making most of the decisions about their own learning, thus exercising metacognitive skills prior to entry to higher education or the workplace.

Here is a very simple depiction of what I am imagining:

DISDL

 

Do you think this is worthwhile exploring or researching? I welcome reactions….

References

Everest, C. (2003, February 18). Differentiation, the new monster in education. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/feb/18/furthereducation.uk4

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2003). Differentiating instruction for academic diversity. In J.M. Cooper (Ed.), Classroom teaching skills. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 

3 thoughts on “Can Differentiated Instruction lead to Self-Directed Learning?

  1. As students mature and have had engaged learning opportunities they will seek the intrinsic rewards of SDL either through necessity or excitement of subject matter.

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  2. What you have envisaged is the absolute ideal. Ideal. Differentiation seems extremely difficult in theory, but once an instructor begins to implement, it gets much easier. Imagination is awakened in instructor and student… and learners respond so agreeably to teaching that respects their needs and interests that they instinctively take a larger role in their own learning. Later, the primarily self-directed learning, in my view, needs to include ample opportunity for independent study in areas that interest the learner(s) most…and this will organically lead to connections with other areas on the knowledge map. The challenge is getting past an “accountability” culture where instructors and administrators fear all material has to be the same and all learning at a lock-step, synchronized pace for the group. I hope we reach the destination you’ve laid out here. That would be a HAPPY place.

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