Differentiated Instruction In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

Differentiated Instruction In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know
Summary: Every learner comes into your eLearning course with unique learning needs, skills, experience levels, and personalities. This makes it increasingly difficult to provide an individualized learning experience to each member of your audience unless you know the basics and best practices of differentiated instruction. In this article, I’ll share 4 ways to identify the needs of individual learners and 5 tips on how to employ differentiated instruction in eLearning in order to increase the effectiveness of your eLearning course.

Differentiated Instruction In eLearning

Differentiated instruction in eLearning meets the individual needs of learners by custom tailoring not only the eLearning content, but also how the information is conveyed and how learners demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter. This allows us to perceive differentiated instruction in eLearning in terms of content, process, and final product, respectively.

Every online learner has their own interests, strengths, learning needs, and knowledge base. Differentiated instruction in eLearning gives eLearning professionals the opportunity to create eLearning courses that honor these differences, instead of trying to make the learner fit into a “typical learner” mold. In this article, I’ll be highlighting the best practices of applying differentiated instruction in eLearning, sharing 5 tips that will help you use this highly effective approach in your next eLearning course.

4 Ways To Identify The Needs Of Individual Learners

There are many ways that eLearning professionals can cater to the individual needs of their learners. However, these are the main principles that are found in all successful differentiated eLearning courses:

  1. Acknowledging diverse learning needs.
    Different learners have different areas that may need improvement. Likewise, learners assimilate information at their own pace, and they have their own unique set of skills. Acknowledging and identifying learning needs is essential in the differentiated learning process.
  2. Ongoing assessment.
    Online facilitators must assess and identify learners’ strengths and weaknesses throughout the eLearning course to determine if they need additional support.
  3. Group collaboration.
    In addition to self-guided online exercises, learners must also be able to participate in group collaboration online activities which give them the opportunity to observe different learning needs and benefit from the experiences of others.
  4. Learners’ empowerment.
    Learners are given the power to create their own eLearning experiences by choosing which tasks they will complete and how they will approach the online task. This empowers them to become active participants, due to the fact that they have greater control over the learning process.

5 Tips for Applying Differentiated Instruction in eLearning

  1. Give learners the opportunity to progress at their own speed.
    Not every learner is going to be able to speed through the eLearning course. This is why it’s important to give them the ability to progress through the eLearning experience at their own pace. Offer support along the way for those who may struggle with a topic or module, and allow those who complete the task more quickly to move forward when they are ready. If you are going to be doing timed exercises, such as assessments or scenarios, then make sure that you leave enough time for reflection, critical thinking, and still offer enough challenge for more advanced learners.
  2. Offer supplemental learning resources.
    Providing supplemental resources, such as links to helpful guides, articles, or videos, is beneficial for all learning needs. Learners who may be struggling can click on the resource links when they need additional help with a topic, while advanced learners can use the resources to learn even more about a subject or idea that interests them. For learners who may need additional support, because they are finding the work too challenging or not challenging enough, offer them a place where they can find the help they need. For example, you can setup a contact form or provide them with an email address where they can get answers to questions or address their concerns. Create a forum where they can receive peer-based feedback and support if an instructor is not available.
  3. Create an individualized learning plan.
    At the beginning of the eLearning course encourage your learners to create their own learning goals and objectives, then use them to develop a customized learning plan that will meet their individual learning needs. You can also ask them to create a timeline which highlights when they would like to meet specific milestones. At the end of the eLearning course ask your learners to evaluate their learning plan to see if they successfully met their goals, or if they may require additional support to achieve the desired outcome.
  4. Research the specific needs of your learners.
    This is, without a doubt, one of the most crucial elements of a successful differentiated eLearning strategy. Before you can cater to the individual needs of your learner, you have to know what those needs are. You have to know what they need to get out of the eLearning experience, and what they hope to achieve by the time they’ve completed the eLearning course. Conduct surveys and focus groups that identify what they need to know, and how the prefer to fill this learning gap. You can also assess your learners at the beginning of the eLearning course to get an accurate idea of their current knowledge base and which particular skills or information you may need to integrate into the curriculum.
  5. Clarify expectations right from the start.
    Regardless of their individual learning style or needs, every learner in your audience must know what is expected of them and which eLearning activities and delivery methods will be utilized throughout the eLearning course. On that same note, they should also be aware of what they can expect to receive by participating in the eLearning course. Develop a set of clear instructions that state what real world benefits the eLearning course can provide, as well as how they can apply the knowledge they will learn in real world settings.

It is impossible to create a unique eLearning experience for every member of your audience, but you can help them achieve their individual learning goals and meet their needs by using these differentiated eLearning tips and best practices when designing your next eLearning course.

Interested in learning more about customizing your eLearning course to meet the individual needs of your learners? Take a moment to read the article, Top 5 Benefits Of Learner-Centered Online Training which highlights the top 5 benefits of learner-centered online training.