Diversity of Learners, Differentiated Instruction, and e-Learning

CPS - E-Learning

When we consider meeting diverse learners and diverse learning needs, we should consider multi-media technology tools to deliver and receive differentiated instruction (Gardner, 1993; Kingsley, 2007; Moreno, 2010; Tomlinson, 2001). Diversity encompasses different elements, such as “socio-economic, world-view, race, age, cultural, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, cognitive abilities, life experiences, and developmental stage” (Haring-Smith, 2012, p. 8; Mirriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2013; Volckmann, 2012, pp. 1 -2). Tomlinson as cited in Rebora (2008) defined differentiated instruction as the process of attending to students’ learning preferences. E-learning is distance-learning that uses electronic technology (Northwest Educational Technical Consortium, 2005).

Technology and the Internet make it possible for diverse groups of people to network, socialize, and learn (Intrabartola, 2012). Students using technology tools and the Internet are participating in geographically dispersed virtual work groups and are forming partnerships that result in social learning, learning through observation, and modeling (Derrick, 2011; Jones and McLean, 2012; Kankanhalli, Tan & Kwok-Kee, 2006).
Connecting Diversity, e-Learning, and Technology
Student populations are diverse. “Diversity includes students from various cultures; with varied abilities, disabilities, interests, experiential backgrounds, and even language use” (Basham, Meyer, and Perry, 2010, p. 340). The potential for meaningful learning that is learner-centered may exist when diversity is acknowledged, and the needs of diverse learners are accommodated (American Psychological Association Work Group, 1997; Jones and McLean, 2012).
E-Learning design and instructional practices are always adjusting to keep pace with constantly changing technology and to serve and support diverse learners situated across geographical boundaries. In e-Learning courses a relationship exists between the extent of the availability of learner-centered multi-media technology materials and the extent to which diversity learners are accommodated (Douglas-Faraci, 2010).

One way that diversity, e-Learning, and technology connect is through e-Learning experiences that are grounded in learner-centered principles and support the complex process of learning through collaboration and learning situated in inquiry and community. Features of such learning experiences and instructional practices are multiple ways of presenting course curriculum using a variety of technologies such as:
• Graphics
• Audio
• Video
• Animation
• Learner choice to match learner needs
• Class discussions
• Collaboration
• Problem-solving
• Flexible curriculum (International Society for Technology in Education, 2012; McCombs and Vakili, 2005). 

An e-Learning classroom climate of collaboration includes discussion boards and opportunities to work in teams using technology tools to communicate (Douglas-Faraci, 2010).
Supporting Differentiated Instruction With Technology
Differentiated instruction requires use of a combination of materials (Gardner, 1993; Tomlinson, 2001). A relationship exists between student learning achievement and course materials that are tailored to diverse learners (Su, Tseng, Lin, and Chen, 2011). E-Learning that offers multiple technology modalities such as graphics, audio, video, and animation accommodates diverse learners (Douglas-Faraci, 2010). Course design that promotes differentiated instruction with technology includes individual student access to digital instructional material and instructor adaptation and presentation of digital instructional materials to students on an individual basis (Hall, Strangman, and Meyer, 2003).

Hardware and software can comprise an information and communication technology package. That package can be used by course participants to receive and create content and can include whiteboards, mobile devices, and peripherals such as microphones and iPods (Basham, Meyer, and Perry, 2010; Jones and McLean, 2012; Su, Tseng, Lin, and Chen, 2011). Some instructional materials that support learning can include audio and video that is constructed by course participants and course instructors to align with learning objectives, and or is accessed from sources such as i-Tunes lectures (Basham, Meyer, & Perry, 2010).

Web 2.0 technology is viewed as a group of tech tools that enable social learning through user creation of content and collaboration (Anderson, 2007). Web 2.0 technology tools abound and offer e-Learning course facilitators an array of options for maintaining presence in the e-Learning classroom environment, providing feedback to learners, posting announcements in the e-Learning classroom, and for communicating with learners during a course. Such activities can be delivered using Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, screen casts, video sharing, avatars, and social networking sites (Tunks, 2012).
Due to constantly changing technology and the need to support a diverse student body located in different global regions, e-Learning design and instructional practices are constantly changing. Technology has facilitated the participation of diverse student bodies in virtual work groups and partnerships that may result in the social learning (Derrick, 2011; Jones and McLean, 2012; Kankanhalli, Tan and Kwok-Kee, 2006). When we consider diverse learners and diverse learning needs, we should consider multi-media technology tools for differentiated instruction (Gardner, 1993; Kingsley, 2007; Tomlinson, 2001).
Web 2.0 technology tools and mobile device usage are creating additional opportunities to individualize and differentiate curriculum for diverse learners. Web 2.0 technology tools such as wikis, blogs, screen casts, video sharing, avatars, and social networking sites offer e-Learning course facilitators an array of options for maintaining presence in the e-Learning classroom environment (Tunks, 2012).


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Denise Douglas-Faraci, EdD, Adjunct Faculty for the School of Education
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