How to Use Differentiation In Your Training Course
No matter how carefully you structure your training courses, when your learners hit the classroom it is inevitable that there will be some variation between learners. The key to effective training is giving every individual undertaking it the best possible chance of learning. And the way to do this is through differentiation.
You may already do this, in fact, with your learning objectives. At the beginning of your lesson you might lay out your objectives in the following way:
By the end of the session
All learners must…
Some learners may…
A few learners might…
If you don’t do this already, it’s a great way to start thinking about the diversity of your learners and will support you in understanding where they are at in the learning process.
But differentiation can, and should, go beyond the learning objectives and permeate into the strategies you implement in the classroom.
If you are sat there scratching your head and wondering ‘How on earth does differentiation work in the classroom, here are just a few ideas for you.
Rethink Your Seating Plan
Or make one if you haven’t already. For trainers that deliver their sessions in physical classrooms, a seating plan can go a long way to encouraging differentiation. For example, sitting higher level learners next to those who may need more support can be a really useful strategy that encourages community learning. Believe it or not, your students may understand complex concepts more effectively when they’re explained by one of their peers in their own words!
Feedback isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ exercise. It must be meaningful and tailored to the learner. It may be tempting to be encouraging with feedback like ‘well done,’ but it does not encourage progression.
Give targeted feedback to each learner, pinpointing what they have done well and what they could improve on in the future.
Peer assessment has two advantages. The first is it takes the pressure off you in training sessions – which can only be a good thing! The second is that it encourages students to really absorb what they are learning, gain knowledge and support each other in their learning.
This can be as simple as swapping pieces of work to mark and encouraging students to provide feedback to their peers.
This is, obviously, then supported by you in reinforcing what has been done well and what improvements that need to be made in future.
Offer a Variety of Tasks
Your learners are self-directed and the key to effective learning is motivation. If you only offer one choice of task to your learners, you neglect their unique learning styles and run the risk of disillusion.
By offering a variety of tasks with varying difficulty levels of allowing your learners to choose which to undertake, you’re much more likely to be met with self-motivation and more productive learning.
Appeal to the Senses
It sounds strange, but your lessons will be much more effective if you can appeal to the senses of your students. This means targeting the visual, tactile, auditory and kinaesthetic senses throughout your sessions.
This can come in many forms, from playing videos, to using graphs or infographics. It can even come in the form of the dreaded role play, or more simply by supplying instructions that you would normally give verbally in written form, too.
Stretch and Challenge
We’ve all encountered learners who fly through each task and end up asking for more. These are usually students who have a thirst for knowledge, or even just a natural aptitude for the subject you are teaching.
But it pays to be prepared.
Instead of having higher level students twiddle their thumbs, or lay dormant, while the rest of the learners finish up, always have a few stretch and challenge ideas in the the bank to push them that bit further.
For example, if they have written an essay arguing FOR something, challenge them to write an essay arguing AGAINST IT. Or, task them with supporting other learners through peer assessment and mentoring.
Differentiation is hugely important within your training for all of your students. It is not necessarily about only supporting those who may struggle, or fall behind, but providing equal opportunities for each of them to learn effectively no matter their level. Differentiation also takes into account the different learning styles of your students, so your classrooms, be they physical or virtual, will be more productive and achieve better results.