Pedagogy and edtech: Does technology benefit all types of learners?

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Providing equally strong learning experiences for all pupils is a difficult task, especially in classes where abilities vary greatly, but it is part and parcel of teaching.

Profiling and differentiating your pupils is a key step in overcoming this challenge, because it helps you identify the different types of learners and personalities that are present within your class – which then gives you a clearer idea of what you need to do to engage each and every pupil.

But as technology continues to play an increasingly prominent and important role in lesson delivery across UK schools, it’s fair to question whether certain kinds of learners benefit more from tech usage than others do.

So let’s take a look.

A recap of pedagogical profiling: VARK learning preferences

The VARK model outlines four key preferences for learning:

  • Visual – diagrams, mind maps, charts, graphs (not necessarily videos and animations, which is a common misconception)
  • Auditory – conversations, group discussions, lectures, audiobooks, podcasts
  • Reading/writing – textbooks, essays, articles, reports, presentations, manuals
  • Kinaesthetic – experiences, rehearsals, demos, real-life videos

Most of your pupils will be heavily weighted towards one particular preference, but it’s crucial to note that VARK is not a rigid measurement. Many pupils are multimodal, meaning they respond well to more than just one format of learning.

For example, a pupil could be mostly a reading/writing learner but also be very receptive to visual information. In the same way, a kinaesthetic learner might demonstrate a fondness for auditory information as well as their experiential preference.

As such, engaging all four types of pupils through classroom technology should be achievable, as long as you vary the formats and resources.

Ways to technologically engage pupils across the VARK model

To cater for visual learners, you can use front-of-class displays to create expansive spider diagrams that are much larger and more striking than those possible on regular whiteboards, and then you can save these for future class reference or print them off for your pupils.

When teaching languages, you can access audio resources and play them aloud to the class, thereby giving the auditory learners the stimulation they need, while also using the display to spell out words and translations for the reading/writing learners.

Reading/writing learners engage best with the printed word, which includes digital formats, so slideshows are ideal (as long as they convey the necessary information in sentences as well as with visuals).

Kinaesthetic learners have a preference for simulated experiences and seeing how things work from a practical perspective, making video-based resources ideal: whether that’s scientific demonstrations, explanatory animations, step-by-step instructions or anything else that stimulates their senses and recreates ‘hands-on’ experiences.

Learning outside of the classroom (LOtC) is imperative for pupil development and wellbeing, but logistics, budgets and other factors mean that LOtC is not always possible. The use of video therefore gives pupils – kinaesthetic and otherwise – greater access to the outside world from within the classroom, helping to keep them stimulated and curious.

When teaching any topic, you can use technological resources to serve the needs of multimodal pupils and single-preference learners alike.

Classroom differentiation

Beyond the VARK model, classroom differentiation is another way to further categorise pupils and understand how to go about engaging them, motivating them and building their confidence.

Here are the seven classroom personalities and how to enhance their learning experiences digitally:

The invisible learner

Traits: Quiet, bright and well behaved – but lacking assertion and confidence

Invisible learners benefit from being put in collaborative learning scenarios where they have to work with others, so completing online group surveys and quizzes will help them get their voice and opinions heard.

The underachieving learner

Traits: Highly able yet unmotivated – interests and passions not being satisfied in the classroom

Many underachieving learners may actually be technologically inclined, with the majority of children now being introduced to technology at home from an early age (such as tablets, Netflix for kids and more) – so the introduction of technology might give them the necessary stimulation they need to become more passionate about learning.

The right-place-wrong-time learner

Traits: Gifted but somewhat dormant and perhaps lagging behind in attainment – despite having the potential

Much like the underachieving pupils, these right-place-wrong-time learners may benefit from digital stimuli being introduced in their lessons – whether it’s the use of tablets, contributing to class-wide tasks on front-of-class displays, digital surveys, real-time assessments or video tutorials. Any tech-based activities that can be completed in groups will also help to motivate these learners, because they thrive on interaction with other pupils and being part of a team – so impromptu group quizzes, group polls and other types of formative assessment should work well.

The learner with a potential specialism

Traits: Interested and highly ready, but introverted (and therefore often misperceived as low in ability)

This type of learner tends to work best alone, so they’ll respond best to technology that enables them to learn or perform individually – such as tablet-based pop tests. That said, they should also be encouraged to work in groups and interact with other pupils, just like everybody else. This learner is a specialist in waiting: they’re just unaware of where their passion lies.

The unmotivated learner

Traits: Able and ready, but easily bored by conventional learning formats

Unmotivated pupils love fresh experiences and unconventional ways of learning, because traditional methods of teaching often fail to engage them. Digital activities can therefore work wonders, even if the activity is one that can be performed on pen and paper (such as polls and tests). They also tend to have their individual passions, very much like the potential specialists above, so it’s important that these learners are able to pursue the subjects they’re most fond of.

The perfectly primed learner

Traits: Highly able but reliant on constant stimulation and attention

Primed learners don’t need any motivation or encouragement to learn, but they can become complacent if they don’t have much variety in their learning. They’re receptive to traditional teaching methods, but they’re equally adept at using technology and they relish LOtC experiences.

The in-need learner

Traits: Struggling either academically or personally, needing support and inspiration

The learner in need is often difficult to help, because they need much more support in comparison to their classmates (even those who are unmotivated). Unfortunately, their problems are usually caused by external factors rather than their natural inclination towards learning. However, that presents teachers with the opportunity: technology can be introduced to this pupil as a means of escapism – an interest that they develop, which should then feed into their classroom performance.

The verdict

As we’ve seen by taking a closer look at the VARK model and the seven personality profiles, technology can be used to engage or support all types of learners – from the underachieving to the highly gifted, from the introverted to the extroverted.

Variety and fresh thinking are crucial to the success of technology in the classroom. The beauty of educational technology is that it can be applied in so many different ways, and it is always advancing.