The Future of Learning: Designing for differentiation not settling for standardisation

A bowling alley is characterised by a cavernous spaces made up of lane-upon-lane, with weighty balls hurtling down each one. As a ball is bowled, it’s heading toward the pins which are standing at attention, awaiting the impact at the other end.

Bowling alley.jpg

Is your school like a bowling alley?

The pins, like students, are passive recipients standing straight in rows awaiting the lesson. The teacher, as the bowler, approaches the top of lane and bowls the ‘Maths’ ball down the lane. And repeated along each lane, bowlers after bowlers drive their ‘Maths’ balls down toward the pins, each separate to the others, yet going through similar motions. Behind them the ‘English’ ball is waiting, followed by all the other subjects. Ball after ball, lane after lane until game over. Some hit, some miss.

If these bowlers represent my prowess at the sport, then I might have a 60% impact rate, leaving four pins untouched. Sometimes the ball hurtles down the gutter without a connection, and occasionally I manage a strike and knock down all the pins.  When the craft of teaching is viewed in this way, the mindset is ‘I’ve taught, therefore they’ve learnt’. The bowling balls are standardised issue, and after it’s bowled, it’s up to the student to learn.

Yet, each student is different. With their own personal motivations, challenges, passions and interests. They aren’t all the same, the same approach ‘lane-upon-lane’ or class-upon-class, or even year-upon-year, may satisfy the documentation, but not necessarily all the learners. How teachers reach their own understanding and definition of learning matters to the effectiveness of their practice and the quality of learning.

When I took courses for a masters in special education almost two decades ago, I remember the lecturer saying, ‘every class is a special education class’, that every class has a wide range of learners. Since then, standardisation and efficiency measures have diminished many teachers’ capacity to differentiate as a normal part of their practice, ‘so much to get through, so little time’.

Masters quote

According to Geoff Masters’, every class may represent a range of five or six years in learning capacity, therefore differentiation needs to become part of the repertoire of every teacher.

“learning must be social, active and meaningful. And instead of viewing personalised and blended learning and differentiated instruction as separate approaches, we should consider them interdependent components of great learning experiences”. ‘Arriving at a Definition of Learning’

This is why learning design is so important, it embeds differentiation and personalisation, as it begins with empathy, seeking to know and understand the learner. It doesn’t start with the standards/outcomes, the text book, the resources available, or that favourite lessons you bring out each year. Learning design starts with the learners, especially the ‘outliers’, those less likely to be engaged, those pins that seem to be regularly missed by the bowling ball.

Learning design is best when it is collaborative, utilising the combined knowledge, experience, skills and passions of a team of teachers. It can be supported by a process that gives the teaching team a scaffold.

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