“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”
Any Star Trek fans out there will recognise the quote above but you might be wondering what Mr Spock has got to do with learning. I was thinking about the quote in relation to the difficulty of meeting the needs of each person when teaching or training in a group situation. The majority of training or teaching will be geared towards the needs of the many and it then comes down to a number of factors whether the needs of the few, or the one, are able to be addressed. Some of these factors include: the skills of the trainer/teacher, the available resources, time, whether the content is flexible or must be delivered in a set way and the behaviour of the group. With the right combination of these factors then a successful session can take place.
I think that in this technological era it is easier to cater for individual needs. We can upload additional resources to learning platforms, participate in forums, email/message information or have one to one discussions or tutorials over the internet. This all makes it much easier for individuals to select information to suit their learning style or to recap on the topics they find difficult. Students can contact the tutor without the rest of the group knowing. However, the issue with all of these methods are that they rely on the student having the motivation, knowledge and time to access these additional resources. How many students have these three things?
So, is there more that can be done in a group scenario to try to cater for all needs? There are some techniques that can work: small group activities with specifically chosen groups to allow peer support; using a variety of methods of communication not just Powerpoint alone; allowing tasks to be completed in different ways such as demonstration, verbal/written reports and using video; challenging extension activities for the faster students and allowing students the opportunity to access the topic before the lesson/training to let them absorb information at their own pace.
Many would argue it is easier to differentiate in a school/college setting when you are seeing the same students regularly and much harder to do with very short courses or one off training sessions. I would love for some readers to share how you have successfully managed to differentiate in scenarios where you didn’t know the students in advance and perhaps only had a very short time to complete your delivery in.
Of course there is also a danger of focusing so much on the needs of one person in the group that the ‘many’ are neglected. Imagine this scenario: a group of ten people are taking part in a first aid training session. One person does not understand how to give rescue breaths so the trainer spends a long time demonstrating and explaining it to them in different ways. They eventually get the hang of it but the rest of the group has lost an hour out of the course, aren’t able to cover the whole syllabus and subsequently don’t pass their final assessments. This comes back to the skills and experience of the trainer, who has unwittingly sacrificed the needs of the many for the needs of the one. The trainer could develop a ‘toolbox’ of strategies to use in scenarios like this one.
There are many excellent articles and books about differentiation. I really enjoy the materials written by Geoff Petty and find his definition of differentiation as,
“The process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning.”
a fantastic way to approach the subject. This quote and other materials for download are available on his website . I would be very interested to see if anyone from the training world rather than the teaching world has employed any of Geoff’s methods successfully.
So, thinking back to the topic of this article: Do the needs of the many need to outweigh the needs of the few or the one? Is it possible to cater for everyone’s needs? I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you think it is possible and what strategies you have found to be the most successful to ensure everyone has the best chance of success. After all, to aim for anything else would be illogical.