Education Professors Bring the Complexity of Teaching to Life With This Tool – Digital Promise

Education Professors Bring the Complexity of Teaching to Life With This Tool

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October 10, 2023 | By

A key component of teacher training is to bring the theoretical ideas of how people learn to life and make learning science accessible and actionable, empowering educators with the knowledge and tools for effective instruction. The Learner Variability Navigator (LVN) is a free and open-source tool that was created by The Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise to help with the translation between what we know about how people learn and what, specifically, educators can do to address learner variability, which is the recognition that each learner has a unique constellation of strengths and challenges that are interconnected across the whole child and vary by context (Pape, 2018).

The Learner Variability Project partnered with several college professors who were interested in introducing the LVN to their students (pre-service and in-service teachers at different stages of their careers) and then sharing back their experience on how they effectively engaged students of education with this tool. Professors reported that the LVN supported them in their endeavors to impart both theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge.

Professor Angela Elkordy, who teaches at the National College of Education, National Louis University in Illinois, described how using the LVN with her students demonstrates the power of the tool to illuminate what the job of teaching fully entails, how teachers must account for the many factors embedded in cognition, emotion, personal background, academic content knowledge, and the way they all relate to one another in endless compilations, student by student. In her doctoral class on “Curriculum, Advocacy, and Policy,” Professor Elkordy used the LVN as a backdrop for a discussion about the artistry of teaching, and the extent to which a curriculum should be prescribed. She presented the LVN as a tool to help her students understand the learners who are being serviced by the curriculum, and she emphasized the need to take learner variability into account when evaluating a curriculum.

Professor Elkordy shared that the LVN “…really opened their eyes to the paradigm” of learner variability, especially the relationships between the clusters of factors, and it solidified for them that honoring the artistry of teaching is more important than prescription, as the artistry can address learner variability. She further emphasized the visual power of the LVN in helping her illustrate the complexity of learning: “Teachers know that learners vary, they just don’t know how this impacts their work. Even though the ideas are introduced, the ideas remain dormant until a tool like this awakens their knowledge and turns it into usable, actionable knowledge for practice.”

Professor Allegra Johnson, who teaches at The Alder Graduate School of Education, a California-based teacher residency program, had a similarly positive experience when she introduced the LVN to her special education master’s degree students in a course called “The Art of Case Management and Collaboration.” In this culminating course, students in Professor Johnson’s course learn how to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a real student who they have gotten to know after working in schools with mentors. Professor Johnson introduced the LVN as a tool for finding research-based strategies to include in the IEP, and described how the dynamism of the LVN brought learning science to life, highlighting relationships among learning factors across the whole child. Similar to Professor Elkordy, Professor Johnson noted the visual power of the LVN to illustrate the complexity of learning. As her students filtered through a variety of learning factors to try and identify the appropriate strategies for their students, they exclaimed, ‘Wow! Factors change, and strategies change!”

In our follow-up survey, 100% of participating teacher trainees said they would use the LVN in the future, with the majority planning to use it for lesson planning (56%) or to support struggling students (28%). They recognized its power to support their teaching practice in whatever environment they will be working in or with whatever curriculum they will be using.

If you would like more information on how to use the LVN to introduce learner variability and learner science connections in a college of teacher education, please contact Jessica Jackson at


  1. Pape, B. (2018). Learner Variability is the Rule, Not the Exception. Digital Promise.

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