Understanding Learner Variability: The Research and the Reality - Digital Promise

Understanding Learner Variability: The Research and the Reality

Students in classroom

August 23, 2018 | By and

In our paper, Learner Variability Is the Rule, Not the Exception, we define learner variability, based on research on the science of the individual and what research says matters in learning. Learner variability includes:

… the young person who lives in poverty, or is learning to speak English and may not yet have the background knowledge to enable comprehension of a reading passage. Or, the student who already has the skills to excel at a pace beyond the curriculum and is bored because traditional methods of instruction do not engage her or meet her needs… Learner variability is the learner whose learning difference, color, ethnicity, or gender makes them susceptible to stereotype threat and low expectations…

Though we have a definition of learner variability on paper, we wanted to show what it looks and feels like in the classroom, from the perspectives of a teacher and a learner. In Digital Promise Global’s premier film, Failure to Communicate: A 360° Experience about Learner Variability, we breathe life into our definition of learner variability.

The goal of creating this film was threefold; we wanted to:

  1. Vividly show learner variability in a classroom and allow the audience to experience variabilities on an emotional level;
  2. Examine teacher professionalism and growth aimed at helping each learner acquire knowledge in a way that is best for them; and
  3. Demonstrate how learning sciences research can improve classroom practice.

There are strong storytelling benefits to 360°/virtual reality (VR) media, especially given its immersive qualities. We used the 360° canvas for this project because of its ability to drop someone not only into a place (a classroom), but into someone’s mind (both the student and the teacher). Narrative storytelling in 360° permits us to build a realistic world, surround the viewer with the story, and allow them to become part of the story by assuming the perspectives of different individuals.

In Failure to Communicate, while presenting several variabilities in each student in the class, our focus lands on one girl who has dyslexia and social anxiety. It is possible to explain her challenges in a paper or discuss them in a podcast. But, in this 360° film, the audience sees, hears, and feels her struggles, as well as the teacher’s frustration for not being able to better spark excitement among all of her students.

Viewing the world through someone else’s eyes can be uncomfortable. This project allowed us to research and portray the discomfort of another person to create a visceral experience and showcase strategies for making learning more comfortable for each student, while keeping expectations high for all.

It’s not always easy and it’s a process that certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but Failure to Communicate demonstrates the promise of using research to address the learner variability found in every classroom.

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