Differentiated Learning: The 21st Century Pedagogical Strategy Teachers Should Adopt

Many parents and teachers fall into the temptation to compare a child’s academic performance or experience with another child without understanding how children differ in their emotional, physical, and psychological development.

We all learn in different ways, and our abilities and interests also vary. Therefore, if teachers do not realize that each student in the classroom has their own unique learning style, they may find it difficult to promote the maximum growth of the learner.

In addition, children develop executive functioning skills differently, so their ability to master different subjects varies. Instead, teachers should be able to get to know each student individually and adopt strategies that work for them.

That’s why a thorough understanding of differentiated learning is critical for every teacher who wants to maximize students’ potential in their classrooms.

If you want to learn more about differentiated learning, you’ve come to the right place. Come with me to explore this concept in detail.

What Is Differentiated Learning?

Differentiated learning is an instructional technique in which teachers employ a variety of teaching methods to individually meet the needs of each student according to their needs.

These needs may be existing knowledge, learning style, interest, and understanding of the subject. 

Basically, differentiated learning allows teachers to meet each student at a level comparable to their knowledge level and prepare for their learning preferences.

Moreso, the purpose of differentiated learning is to create an equal learning advantage for all students and to bridge the gap between the seemingly high performers and low performers in the classroom.

The learning process is such that students are neither overly challenged nor challenged.

Before introducing a course to a class, it is important to note that some students may have a level of knowledge on the subject, while others may have a general understanding of the subject. Conversely, some students may be completely new to the topic.

Also, some students understand better and faster when listening to teachers or through audiobooks. 

On the other hand, some people learn effectively while actively participating in the learning process. Some students will have to spend time reading on their own to gain complete knowledge.

We also have children who enjoy working and collaborating in small groups, while some children prefer to learn on their own. Differentiation of content and approach ensures that everything is tailored to the different needs of the participants.

Four factors come into play to enhance differentiated learning, including content, process, product, and learning environment, which we will study as we go.

Finally, in differentiated learning, the learning objectives are the same for the entire class, however, instructional materials, assessments, and delivery methods vary based on the needs of each student.

Methods Of Differentiated Learning

As mentioned earlier, teachers can differentiate learning in four ways. These include:

1. Content

The content is the course itself. This can be differentiated in a number of ways. First, students have different levels of mastery or knowledge of a subject. 

Some students may have no prior knowledge of the subject, some students may have partial knowledge, and some students may have mastered the knowledge of the subject.

In addition, there are different types of learners. There are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. 

Visual learners easily acquire knowledge through visual representations of topics. On the other hand, auditory learners understand topics better when listening to audiobooks or teachers. 

Kinesthetic learners, on the other hand, understand better by physically participating in the learning process.

Incorporating this knowledge into teaching will help teachers develop a variety of content and instructional materials that can individually reach each student.

2. Process

Process talks about ways to provide instruction to students. It is important to pre-assess each student to understand the teaching style that is right for them. 

Additionally, ongoing assessment over the course of the course will help teachers understand whether each student is learning to the best of their ability.

In order to determine the appropriate teaching process or curriculum for each child, teachers must understand students’ interests, abilities, and knowledge levels.

Some students learn best through audio-based instruction or listening to the teacher. 

For some people, listening to the teacher is not enough, they have to read it over and over again. And some people learn best by manipulating content-related objects.

Additionally, some students prefer to work alone, while others prefer collaborative and group-based learning. Understanding students’ needs through pre-assessment can help teachers create differentiated learning processes that help students learn effectively.

Finally, a viable process to employ is scaffolding in which teachers demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back for students to replicate these processes while offering support as they progress.

3. Products

This aspect of differentiated learning involves the method by which teachers access each student’s level of mastery of the curriculum. Teachers can do this by conducting tests, asking students to write a report on a practical topic based on the course, etc.

However, the best assessment method is one that matches each student’s level of intellectual interest and preferred learning mode.

For example, a good way to test kinesthetic learners is through practical assessments, whereas auditory learners will do well through verbal assessments.

Also, students who are new to a topic may not be able to answer questions as proficiently as those who have a better understanding of the topic.

Therefore, the product differentiation approach provides students with a range of options to individually demonstrate their level of understanding.

4. Learning Environment

In general, students learn in an environment that either improves learning or undermines their learning.

Creating a quiet and peaceful environment is conducive to learning, while a noisy environment can reduce students’ comprehension.

Additionally, when considering contextual factors to enhance differentiated learning, it is critical to ensure that there are flexible classroom layouts to support group work and collaboration, as well as to encourage individuals who prefer to work alone.

Finally, environmental factors such as lighting, classroom atmosphere, class size, board settings, etc. all contribute to the level of student performance.

Advantages Of Differentiated Learning

Below is a list of the notable benefits of differentiated learning for students:

1. Equal Growth For All Students

Differentiated learning was adopted to support every student in their learning journey. It is the way to reach and impact every child across all levels.

2. Better Academic Performance

Differentiated learning improves the general academic performance of students. By catering to them individually, teachers can spike students’ interest in learning and gear them toward realizing their full potential.

3. Fun and Immersive Learning

When teachers adopt a series of instructional strategies that align with students of any type, they would find learning easy and fun.

By encouraging group-based learning, using a game-like approach, and videos, and allowing students to manipulate objects related to the content, each student can get really engrossed in learning.

4. Personalized Learning

Differentiated learning is student-centric. Teachers develop their lessons based on students’ knowledge levels, learning preferences, and interests.

The learning environment is such that supports learners who prefer to read in secluded and quiet places as well as those who love to discuss in groups.

More so, the content and instructional materials include audio format, videos, and practicals in a bid to ensure personalized learning for every student.

Disadvantages Of Differentiated Learning

The benefits of differentiated learning are clear, but there are some challenges associated with it, including:

1. Time factor

Although differentiated learning is a fun way to teach, teachers barely have the luxury of time to focus on each student individually.

This is because the school allocates time for each subject. And there may not be enough time to pre-assess students’ knowledge levels or group them according to their knowledge and learning preferences, etc.

2. High pressure

Differentiated learning involves many processes, from pre-assessment to continuous assessment, to content planning, to the teaching process, etc. This can be overwhelming for teachers.

Additionally, teachers must cater to students individually and in groups, which may not be possible for teachers with large numbers of students in their classes.

3. High cost

To facilitate differentiated learning, schools must have access to a range of resources and instructional materials to support the learning of each student.

Additionally, they must provide materials for each topic. Clearly, this will require ongoing financial support that many schools may not be able to meet.

Examples Of Differentiated Learning

Let’s explore the differentiated pedagogical strategies to apply in a variety of subjects:

1. Differentiated learning strategies for math

Differentiated instruction for math is really effective as it helps to b hold students’ confidence, stamina, and skills. Some strategies include:

  • The use of jelly tots and toothpicks to learn about 3D shapes
  • Playing mental arithmetic games using dartboards
  • Use real-world scenarios to explain topics
  • Explain maths with the use of visuals
  • Give students options of maneuvering strategies to solve a math problem to arrive at the answer

2. Differentiated instruction strategies for reading

  • Use of whiteboard to help pupils recognize and pronounce words in prep classes
  • Students could form a team and choose a book to read and discuss
  • Use a tiered assignment approach by allowing some students to write a report on the read while some can do a visual story presentation of what they learned

3. Differentiated learning strategies for writing

  • Give students manuscripts for letter writing
  • Provide graphical scenarios and ask students to explain each phase of the event through writing
  • Allow students to choose a topic of interest to write on

How To Enhance Differentiated Learning

1. Conduct pre-assessments and ongoing assessments

Both pre-assessment and ongoing assessment are important for the effectiveness of differentiated learning. 

Pre-assessment helps teachers determine students’ knowledge levels and avoid dwelling on what they already know or using methods that may not work.

Because pre-assessments help gathers information about students’ strengths, weaknesses, and areas of need, it is best done before lesson plans are written so that course descriptions can be tailored to the needs of students.

On the other hand, continuous or ongoing assessment helps teachers to understand the progress of students after each stage of learning. 

By continually testing students in different ways, teachers can learn more about students’ interests, preferred learning styles, and willingness to learn, and continue to improve strategies to help them learn better.

2. Hire teaching assistants

As mentioned earlier, teachers do not have enough time alone to meet the needs of all students. So one of the ways schools can foster differentiated learning is to hire assistant instructional administrators whose job it is to keep low-ability students up to speed.

Additionally, assistant teachers can take on jobs that cater to small groups of learners, while teachers instruct other individual learners. This way, they can maximize their time and energy and ensure that every child is touched.

3. Encourage parents to participate in their child’s learning process

Parents are often eager to see their children grow and progress academically. Also, parents have a deeper understanding of their child’s feelings, interests, and changes over time. 

Therefore, sharing their perspectives with teachers can go a long way in helping teachers understand these children so they can develop the right strategies to improve their performance.


Is differentiated learning effective?

Yes. It is a very effective strategy for improving the learning process and performance of students.

Is differentiated learning the same as differentiated instruction?

Yes. They both mean the same thing.

What are examples of differentiated learning?

Examples of differentiated learning include using a tiered assignment approach where a group of students writes a report on what they read while some give a visual story highlight of what they understand from a passage.


Because every child is unique and special, differentiated learning is a requirement for daily classroom practice. And many teachers are inculcating it as a strategy to meet the needs of every student in their class.

Therefore, it is best that you adopt differentiated learning in your class to help to learn fun and immersive for students as well as improve their academic performance.

Also, teachers can allow students to manipulate their way around a mathematical problem to solve it. They can equally allow students to pick a topic of interest to write on to help them improve their writing skills.

Finally, it would be best if you check the post on what is Montessori learning, to learn about other ways of helping students learn better.

I hope you got value. Thanks for reading.