Does Differentiated Instruction belong in higher education?

The arguments for…

  1. In higher education, learners are predominantly adults with a clearer idea of what they wish to learn compared with children. According to the adult learning theory devised by Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s that popularised the term ‘andragogy’ (vs ‘pedagogy’), one characteristic of adult learners’ motivation is the willingness to learn when the subject matter is relevant to their perceived needs. In this regard, differentiated instruction (DI) offers an advantage in that, amongst the repertoire of DI strategies are some which differentiate content of learning for individual students. As an example, following a pre-test of relevant knowledge, lecturers can ‘curriculum compact’, i.e. excuse a learner from studying particular content because they have already exhibited sufficient mastery, thus buying time for them to acquire other knowledge. A second DI strategy that applies here is the ‘learning contract’, the negotiation of which factors in a student’s needs and interests. So, DI does offer a range of techniques to tailor courses for individual adult learners.
  2. At colleges, polytechnics and universities, student populations are often highly diverse. Besides readiness, interest and learning profiles (Tomlinson, 2005), there are numerous other factors that distinguish students from each other:
  • nationality
  • physical disability
  • specific learning disorder, e.g. dyspraxia
  • age
  • gender
  • socioeconomic status
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • mode of study, e.g. part-time
  • etc.

In this situation, it can be argued that the question is not whether such diversity should be catered for but how it should be catered for, and DI is a rare example of a systematic yet versatile response that is available to higher education lecturers.

  1. Educators in higher education can draw confidence from the insights gained by researchers who have looked into the impact of DI in school-level education. There have been positive findings about the effect of DI on motivation, for example. (For a list of key findings about DI, see my blog entry on the topic.) Although it may be retorted that primary and secondary level education is not sufficiently relatable to higher education, it is interesting to note that in other areas, research discoveries from elementary and high school education are highly respected at university level, e.g. Black & Wiliam’s seminal work on the effectiveness of formative assessment.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with positive results. As an example, Ernst & Ernst (2005) reported that “students generally responded favorably to the differentiated approach, reporting higher levels of intellectual growth”.

The arguments against…

  1. Another assumption about adult learners in Knowles’ andragogy theory runs counter to the one of the main tenets of differentiated instruction. Adult learners, says Knowles, need to be self-directed in their learning whereas in DI, the person making decisions about learning is usually the instructor, with some input from learners. Since DI was developed for younger learners, the element of control by teachers is stronger than one would expect to encounter in university settings.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with negative results. In the same paper, Ernst & Ernst (2005), flags were raised about the increased time commitment needed to implement DI and it was reported that “instructor’s concerns related to the fairness of the approach”.
  3. There are alternatives to DI such as Universal Design for Learning and the increased use of Technology-Enhanced Learning in order to accommodate individual learning differences.
  4. Compared with school teachers, university lecturers may not always know their students that well. This is because student cohorts may be large, contact hours may be lower, and students may go AWOL from time to time. If the lecturers are not that well informed about the learners, then any attempt at differentiated instruction would be based upon assumptions. By contrast, primary/elementary school teachers will have much greater opportunity to find about their learners and therefore apply DI more meaningfully.

So, what to do? Adopt or ignore DI?

As I have proposed in another blog entry, entitled Can differentiated instruction lead to self-directed learning?, I suggest that DI could serve as an interim measure in higher education. There may be many university students who are already self-directed but, given the increased access to higher education compared with a generation ago, it is reasonable to suppose that a more directive approach such as DI could be appropriate on occasion and for particular learners.

References

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Ernst, H.R. & Ernst, T.L. (2005) The promise and pitfalls of differentiated instruction for undergraduate Political Science courses: Student and instructor impressions of an unconventional teaching strategy, Journal of Political Science Education, 1:1, 39-59.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005) How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Key research findings about Flipped Learning

Students supplied with video lectures came to lessons better prepared than when they had been given textbook readings.

(DeGrazia, Falconer, Nicodemus, & Medlin, 2012)

Students preferred live in-person lectures to video lectures, but also liked interactive class time more than in-person lectures.

(Toto & Nguyen, 2009)

According to Bishop & Verleger (2013), who conducted a meta-survey on research into Flipped Learning, there has only been one empirical study on the influence of flipped classroom instruction on objective learning outcomes:

Students in the flipped environment scored significantly higher on homework assignments, projects, and tests.

(Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, 2009)

There is a need for a scientific research base if Flipped Learning is to be taken seriously by decision-makers in schools, colleges and universities.

Additional support for Flipped Learning comes from Clintondale High School, Michigan, USA, which took the extraordinary step of converting to a Flipped School, i.e. Flipped Learning is the sole method employed:

The failure rate among freshman math students dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent in one year’s time.

Finkel (2012)

References

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. (2009). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs effective for evaluations during the 2010-2011 accreditation cycle. Baltimore, MD.

Bishop, J.L. & Verleger, M.A. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: A survey of the research. 120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

DeGrazia, J.L., Falconer, J.L., Nicodemus, G., & Medlin, W. (2012). Proceedings from ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition 2012: Incorporating screencasts into chemical engineering courses.

Finkel, E. (2012). Flipping the script in K12. District Administration. Retrieved from www.districtadministration.com/article/flipping-script-k12

Toto, R. & Nguyen, H. (2009). Proceedings from Frontiers in Education Conference 2009: Flipping the work design in an industrial engineering course. San Antonio, Texas.

Motivation for secondary/high school students

During my years in schools, it has been my observation that motivation is a particular challenge for students aged 14-16. This view is based upon my experience as a teacher and teacher trainer in Japan, the UK, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. Whether learners are in secondary or high schools, this age group must study a broad range of subjects, some of which they enjoy and others not, according to individual interest and other factors, e.g. the syllabus, the learning and teaching methods but perhaps most importantly, the qualities of their teachers. Twelve and thirteen year olds, by contrast, are still fresh to the “big school” and seem more content to follow a prescribed diet of studies. Seventeen and eighteen year olds are focused on school leaving examinations. Of course I am generalising but I do think it is worthwhile to reconsider how to stimulate the enthusiasm of 14-16 year olds.

Option 1 is to tell them to be motivated, basically. It has not failed to amaze me that many teachers act like motivational speakers and assume that pep talks work. Maybe they do, I do not have data to contradict that assumption. However, I have observed this approach meeting a stony silence from many adolescents. They may be at an age when it is just not cool to follow adults’ advice. However, in some environments this is the accepted way to encourage learners.

Option 2 is for teachers to strive to make their subject as fascinating as possible. For some disciplines, for example language arts, there is flexibility over choice of content. So, some teachers work hard to research their learners’ interests and select, e.g. reading texts that are more likely to be engaging and provoke a reaction. Skilled teachers of all disciplines can also spice up lessons through clever task design, making the learning interactive and fun in spite of the students’ indifference to the lesson topics. This is basically my approach, too, but I admit that it doesn’t always work.

Therefore, I wondered whether I could get learners in this age group to reflect upon different types of motivation and come to the realisation that a particular school subject may still be worth applying themselves to even if they don’t have interest per se. I put together a session for learners with some tasks to complete that hopefully led them to this realisation. My workshop was entitled Motivating yourself to learn and its objectives were as follows:

  • Realise what motivates you to study
  • Understand definitions of types of motivation
  • Become aware of connections between subjects studied and types of motivation
  • Find reasons for positive attitudes to studying all subjects

The description of four types of motivation is debatable, of course. There are rival theories of motivation with different categories but I felt that these 4 types were accessible enough to 14-16 year olds.

I attach the learning materials Motivation_HO1 Motivation_HO2 Motivation_HO3 Motivation_HO4 and PPT show Motivating yourself to learn from that workshop for your consideration.

Do you think that these reflective exercises could positively impact on teenagers’ motivation to study?

 

Managers’ feedback and its impact on development & motivation

Recently, I read an article by Anmol Jain highlighting the role of continuous feedback in motivating junior colleagues. I appreciated the way it was written because he provided a concrete example of feedback from a manager to a team member:

‘The deliverable you produced is very nice and very close to my expectations, but if you can just make these few minor changes it would really stand out’.

This example exhibits features of worthwhile feedback. The manager indicated that the deliverable was almost aligned with expectations. As long as the team member knows and understands the expectations, this is useful information. The manager goes on to detail changes that would enhance the deliverable, thus refocusing the team member’s actions and efforts. The manager could also have commented on the efficiency of processes by which the deliverable was produced, if those had been observed. The feedback aids motivation because it is constructive, acknowledging what has been achieved already and enabling further progression.

To build upon Anmol’s article, I thought that I would provide a few more details on feedback summarised from educational research. If the arenas of education and business are sufficiently relatable, my hope is that this might prove useful information for managers.

There are several ways that managers can respond to completed work tasks and they are not all beneficial.

Try dividing the following types of feedback according to their effects on performance and achievement. Which do you believe have a positive impact, and which a negative impact?

  1. giving material rewards for a high quality deliverable
  2. directly correcting errors in the deliverable
  3. providing prompts to enhance the quality of the deliverable
  4. confirming what is good about the deliverable
  5. inviting peer evaluation of the deliverable
  6. penalizing flaws in the deliverable
  7. verbally praising a good quality deliverable
  8. clarifying how the deliverable meets or doesn’t meet expectations

Well, perhaps surprisingly, the following negatively impact on achievement and enthusiasm:

1. Rewards

2. Correction

6. Penalties

7. Praise

Why so? Because they are controlling strategies. Generally, people dislike being coerced, and, in the case of correction, by taking control a manager is effectively doing the task rather than letting the junior staff member develop so that s/he can do it better next time. Praise by itself is not useful because it does not describe what is good and therefore does not inform future development.

My recommendation to managers, therefore, is to utilise feedback types 3, 4, 5 and 8 above.

References

žBrookhart, S.M. (2008). How to give effective feedback to your students. ASCD.

Butler, D.L. & Winne, P.H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81 – 112.

10 advantages of self-directed learners in the workplace

There is evidence that, in the workplace, self-directed learners…

1. adapt to changes in their environments better

Guglielmino, L. (1977). Development of the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale. Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 6467.

2. remain resilient in the face of challenges and obstacles

Zsiga, P.L. (2008). Self-directed learning in directors of a US nonprofit organization. International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, 5(2), 35–49.

3. demonstrate enhanced performances in their jobs 

Artis, A.B. and Harris, E.G. (2007). Self-directed learning and sales force performance: an integrated framework. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 9-24.

4. exhibit superior critical thinking and questioning skills

Candy, P.C. (1991). Self-direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

5. demonstrate increased confidence and problem solving capabilities

Durr, R.E. (1992). An examination of readiness for self-directed learning and personnel variable at a large Midwestern electronics development and manufacturing corporation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.

6. actively share knowledge and build networks with others

Rowland, F. and Volet, S. (1996). Self-direction in community learning: a case study. Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 89-102.

7. show stronger emotional commitment 

Cho, D. and Kwon, D. (2005), Self-directed learning readiness as an antecedent of organizational commitment: a Korean study. International Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 140-52.

8. find their jobs more meaningful

Kops, W.J. (1997). Managers as self-directed learners: findings from the public and private sector organizations. in Long, H.B. and Associates (Ed.), Expanding Horizons in Self-directed Learning, Public Managers Center, College of Education, Norman, OK, pp. 71-86.

9. experience “deep” rather than “surface” learning, and

Stansfield, L.M. (1997), “‘Employee – develop yourself!’ Experiences of self-directed learners”, Career Development International, Vol. 2 No. 6, pp. 261-6.

10. are more likely to realize their potential as leaders.

Klute, M.M., Crouter, A.C., Sayer, A.G., & McHale, S.M. (2002). Occupational self-direction, values, and egalitarian relationships: A study of dual-earner couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 139–151.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term “self-directed learner”, a reasonable account can be found at http://www.selfdirectedlearning.org/what-is-self-directed-learning

To get an indication of the degree to which you are  a self-directed learner, try the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale at http://www.lpasdlrs.com/

A Prezi version of this blog entry is available at http://prezi.com/v8eu6aioif2j/advantages-of-self-directed-learners/