Differentiated learning

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Promoting differentiated learning using ICTs

Lori Powell, Memorial University of Newfoundland


Historically, teaching was a one size fits all approach and special education teachers were solely responsible for modifying curriculum and instructional materials for students with special needs (Edyburn, 2004). This approach has not been completely effective and “teachers’ inability to deal with students with different levels of readiness in a different way leads to school failure and all the negative outcomes that come with it” (Konstantinou-Katzi, Tsolaki, Meletiou-Mavrotheris, & Koutselini, 2012, p. 332). The traditional method of teaching is also not conducive to authentic activities that personalize learning for differentiated instruction (Hwang, Chu, Lin, & Tsai, 2011).

Today’s educators have to respond to diverse populations of students within the general education classrooms (Dimitriadou, Nari, & Palaiologou, 2012). Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). To meet those needs, teachers need to change materials, instructional procedures, and also means of assessment (Southall, 2013). Redesigning curriculum, collaborating, scheduling, and preparing resources for students’ needs and other personal characteristics is very labor intensive (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Collecting, gathering, and storing assessment data to inform instruction is limited when teachers have larger groups of students (Mooij, 2007). Implementation of differentiated instruction approaches and the methods that address the modern pedagogy to nurture all students’ learnings is a challenging, and critical task (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012).

Role of ICTs

Differentiation is possible through technologically-enhanced activities (Figg & Jaipal, 2009). “ICT has the potential to integrate and optimize information regarding instruction, learning, and the characteristics of the educational system at a variety of levels” (Mooij, 2007, p. 1501). “Differentiation according to learning style (individual or collaborative), preferred learning medium (visual, kinesthetic, or aural), and ability (multiple resources to address multiple levels of academic readiness) is possible when integrating technologically-enhanced activities into the instructional setting” (as cited in Figg & Jaipal, 2009, p. 2). It is not feasible to ask a teacher to adapt his/her teaching to match individual learning styles if classrooms are not technologically equipped (Ayersman & Minden, 1995).

Teachers can use online activities such as Edublogs, virtual field trips, webquests, ebooks, instructive story-making tools through Microsoft, and concept maps, to differentiate instruction and allow students to personalize and self-direct their own learnings (Figg & Jaipal, 2009). There are also many websites available to teachers that provide tiered learning activities to meet all levels of student learning readiness (Edyburn, 2004). Podcasting, too, can motivate students and is an effective way to scaffold learning to meet individual needs (McClain, Boyle, Franks, Komoff, & Kratcoski, 2007). Video recording software, powerpoint presentation tools, graphic organizers, self-management technology tools, and mobile learning tools can all accommodate learner differences (Southall, 2013). Additionally, virtual environments can differentiate instruction by offering an online space that encourages collaboration and social interactions, while allowing for slower response time from students with varying abilities (Southall, 2013). The adoption of differentiated instructional strategies is beneficial for students and teachers, as educators who adopt such methods demonstrate elevated self-efficacy (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012). Students also experience increased satisfaction when differentiated learning experiences incorporate technological tools (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012).

Utilizing a school’s network-based environment during instruction can provide teachers with the opportunity to insert assessment into lesson sequences to gather real-time feedback so that instruction can be modified to meet the needs of individual learners (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p.347). Technology-based accommodations for differentiated instruction are available to support differences, including the diverse needs associated with students having autism spectrum disorder (Southall, 2013).


Differentiating instruction through collaborative learning in authentic environments, with the incorporation of information and communication technologies, can be difficult with a large group of students (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012). Differentiated instruction however, is a mixture of both individual and group work (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012). Providing scaffolding for technologically-enhanced lessons is a technique to support differentiation (Figg & Jaipal, 2009).

Lessons can turn to chaos if students are not equipped with the necessary skills needed to use technology for differentiated instruction (Figg & Jaipal, 2009). The technical skill set of students must be considered before implementation of technology (Figg & Jaipal, 2009). Modeling of proper technology usage, explaining steps and allowing for hands-on time to explore can have positive results (Kendal & Stacey, 2001). “Differentiation of learning procedures and materials, design of integrating ICT support, and improvement of development and learning progress are recommended as contextual conditions to optimize the learning process” (Mooij, 2007, p. 1499).

High-tech solutions to support differentiated instruction are costly without sufficient research on its effectiveness (Southall, 2013). The web however, hosts free instructional environments that provide tiered learning activities that can be used for differentiated instruction (Edyburn, 2004). Many educational podcasts are also hosted online (Figg & Jaipal, 2009). Podcasting is an effective means for individualizing needs for differentiated instruction (McClain et al., 2007). However, “neither accommodations nor technology are a one size fits all” (Southall, 2013, p. 31). An approach to differentiated instruction that matches learning styles with computer-assisted instruction produces increased student performance (Ayersman & Minden, 1995).

Works cited

Alavinia, P. & Farhady, S. (2012). Using differentiated instruction to teach vocabulary in mixed ability classes with a focus on multiple intelligences and learning styles. International Journal of Applied Science and Technology, 2(4), 72-82.

Ayersman, D., & Minden, A. (1995). Individual differences, computers, and instruction. Computers in Human Behavior, 11(3-4), 371-390.

Cantrell, P., Liu, L., Leverington, M., & Ewing-Taylor, J. (2007). The effects of differentiated technology integration on student achievement in middle school science classrooms. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 3(3), 36-54.

Dimitriadou, C., Nari, E., & Palaiologou, N. (2012). E-learning teacher training courses for differentiated instruction in multicultural classrooms: Reflections upon the participants’ experiences. Journal of Educational Technology, 9(3), 14-26.

Edyburn, D. (2004). Technology supports for differentiated instruction. Journal of Special Education Technology, 19(2), 60-62.

Figg, C., & Jaipal, K. (2009). Engaging 21st century learners and differentiating instruction with technology. Teaching and Learning, 5(1), 1-12.

Hwang, G., Chu, H., Lin, Y., & Tsai, C. (2011). A knowledge acquisition approach to developing mindtools for organizing and sharing differentiating knowledge in an ubiquitous learning environment. Computers & Education, 57, 1368-1377.

Kendal, M., & Stacey, K. (2001). The impact of teacher privileging on learning differentiation with technology. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 6, 143-165.

Konstantinou-Katzi, P., Tsolaki, E., Meletiou-Mavrotheris, M., & Koutselini, M. (2012). Differentiation of teaching and learning mathematics: An action research study in tertiary education. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 44(3), 332-349.

Manavathu, M., & Zhou, G. (2012). The impact of differentiated instructional materials on English language learner (ELL) students’ comprehension of science laboratory tasks. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 12(4), 334-349.

McClain, K., Boyle, T., Franks, M., Komoff, B., & Kratcoski, A. (2007). Podcasting with kids: Differentiating instruction digitally. Journal of the Research Centre for Educational Technology, 3(2), 42-46.

Mooij, T. (2007). Design of educational and ICT conditions to integrate differences in learning: Contextual learning theory and a first transformation step in early education. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 1499-1530.

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Smit, R. & Humpert, W. (2012). Differentiated instruction in small schools. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 1152-1162.

Southall, C. (2013). Use of technology to accommodate differences associated with autism spectrum disorder in the general curriculum and environment. Journal of Special Education Technology, 28(1), 23-34.

Tricarico, K., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2012). Teacher learning through self-regulation: An exploratory study of alternatively prepared teachers’ ability to plan differentiated instruction in an urban elementary school. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter, 139-158.

Walker-Dalhouse, D., Risko, V., Esworthy, C., Grasley, E., Kaisler, G., McIlvain, D., & Stephan, M. (2009). Crossing boundaries and initiating conversations about RTI: Understanding and applying differentiated classroom instruction. The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 84-87.

Watts-Taffe, S., Laster, B., Broach, L., Marinak, B., Connor, C., & Walker-Dalhouse, D. (2012). Differentiated instruction: Making informed teacher decisions. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 303-314.