Can Educators Understand Learning Variabilities WITH Their Students Toward Building Greater Learning Success?

The question is: is their a resource that can help educators understand the ways in which learning varies among their individual students, and include their students in the development of learner-driven activities and environments that will result in learning success? I want to explore this question by framing it within two of the ISTE Standards for Educators. Namely, in reference to ISTE Standard for Educators 5, how can educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability? And, in reference to ISTE Standard for Educators 7, how can educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals?

In my work, with children who have adverse childhood experiences like trauma and abuse, we create an individualized treatment plan unique for every child that comes into one of our residential treatment facilities and studies within our on campus, nonpublic school. We do this because we recognize that every child brings a unique background, with a unique set of life experiences, unique interests, and unique strengths and weaknesses. Our educators need to understand the unique learner variabilities for each child, and account for those variabilities when developing their treatment plan. They need to also account for those variabilities when developing their school-learning plan, so that each student will feel supported and successful in our facility and within our school. This is not an easy undertaking, and that is why understanding learner variability inclusive of personalized learning, individualized learning, and differentiated learning is important for our educators. This understanding helps empower our educators to develop their lessons in a way that will be most meaningful for our students.

Learner variability needs to account for the whole child. Accounting for the whole child means knowing not only students’ academic abilities but also their strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and personal backgrounds that influence their learning. Our educators’ ability to recognize that variability exists among learners in our classrooms encourages their decisions on how to best design their classroom environments to support learning. When our educators can understand learner variability in this way, the behavioral challenges our students exhibit as a result of their past trauma – that impact their learning in and out our classrooms – become a curriculum design problem, not a student problem. In order to best design our classrooms to meet the needs of our learners, our educators must understand learner variability. Equally important is incorporating this understanding into supporting our learners within our classroom for true learning success. 

I discovered the Learner Variability Navigator built through Digital Promise Global. The Learner Variability Navigator centers around the concept that “learners thrive when their experience is personal and meaningful”. This is a free tool that helps educators find research-based strategies that support the whole learner so that educators can create better learning experiences. The Learner Variability Navigator includes nine micro-credentials for educators. These nine micro-credentials include:

  • Attention
  • Auditory Processing
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Inhibition
  • Relationship Skills
  • Self-regulation
  • Social Awareness
  • Speed of Processing
  • Visual Processing

Through these micro-credentials, educators identify an individual student to work with and they assess that students’ strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the focus area of that micro-credential. Using the understanding that they gain from this data assessment, educators are able to identify various strategies that can help support the student’s needs, and then can implement those strategies for effective student learning. The tool also allows for both the student and the educator to reflect on the experience to ensure learning success. For example, in my work with children with adverse childhood experiences, if one of our educators is working with a student who has a strength in relationship building but a challenge with attention, our educators can choose to use the ‘Attention’ micro-credential with this student which takes advantage of the student’s ability to meaningfully interact with others to grow a better learning experience.

What I also really liked about the Learning Variability Project are their Factor Maps. Their Factor Maps “show research-based concepts [“factors”] that likely impact learning. They are organized into four categories – Learner Background, Social and Emotional Learning, Cognition, and Content Area”. In consideration of ISTE Standard for Educators 7 – how can educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals – the Learning Variability Project incorporates these Factor Maps into Strategy Summary Pages. These pages provide an overview of information for the educator, and their student, on how to use the selected strategies in different learning environments; as well as identifying other resources and factors of interest, and other related strategies that educators can use with the data they are receiving. Educators can select factors of interest for them, with their students, and these data points will narrow the effective strategies for the educator and student to find strategies that best align with their students learning variabilities. This all equate to a more positive and successful learning experience, for all.


The web link for the Learning Variability Project is:

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