Inclusive course design

How can we design the learning activities to meet the needs of all students including the silent learners? Here we will refer to the categorisation of learning activities described in the ABC Learning Design method devised by Clive Young and Nataša Perović, University College London. The coloured headings and descriptions are taken from their work.

Thanks to our colleague Francisca Frenks for input to this section.

Investigation activities

Learning through investigation guides the learner to explore, compare and critique the texts, documents and resources that reflect the concepts and ideas being taught. Web search, OER search, literature reviews and critiques.

Silent learners often like to work with a clear vision on what they are investigating. Vague concepts and ideas or changing methods of investigation can cause frustration during collaborative investigation tasks. Silent learners prefer objectivity and a long term perspective. They value quality, logical thinking and detail They prefer individual investigation activities. If the objectives or resources are unclear and the assessment is not logical and linear they may become frustrated and demotivated.

Other learners, in particular extroverts, don’t need such a clear plan for investigation activities. They tend to enjoy looking around and pick up whatever they find meaningful, even if they can not explain yet why it is meaningful.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of different learners?
Make clear in the group that there are different ways to investigate. Let them explain how they prefer to work and show some alternative methods, this is also a 21st century skill. Collaborative work can cause trouble when the learning process or the working process have not been fully discussed.

Acquisition activities

Learning through acquisition is what learners do when they listen to a lecture or podcast, read books or a website and watch demos or videos. For example: guided reading, podcast, webinars, videos etc.

Silent learners tend to love reading and watching alone and at their own pace. Their learning style is linear.

Other learners could find it difficult to fully focus on longer texts or have trouble identifying structures.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of all learners?
Give the more silent learners the opportunity to demonstrate their skills by analyzing the message or structure of the book, video, webinar in a discussion or to discuss the meaningfulness of the content related to the objective. They can explain to other learners (peer to peer) what they have discovered. They can provide useful help to other learners on how to approach tasks like deep reading and analysis. Make sure they have enough time to prepare the discussion and get time to speak, without too much interruption.

Practice activities

Learning through practice enables the learner to adapt their actions to the task goal and use the feedback to improve their next action. For example: online role play, reflective tasks, case-studies.

Silent learners will do the exercise precisely but if it is not clearly related to the objective there could be a problem. They want to think first before they act. They want to do it perfectly. If the assignment is formulated vaguely or the objective is unclear, they feel uncomfortable.

Other students are much more ready to try new things, experiment and then reflect afterwards. They respond well to elements of play and do not need a full explanation for the activity. This will of course come into conflict with those who want order, structure and clear objectives.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of different learners?
Discuss the activity first and specify what possible roles will be needed. Encourage learners to take on different roles and see the activity through someone else’s eyes.

Collaboration activities

Learning through collaboration embraces mainly discussion, practice and production. Building on investigations and acquisition it is about taking part in the process of knowledge building itself. For example small group projects, building joint output, discussion.

Silent learners are often great at giving direction to the process of the group. They analyze well and are keepers of group norms and values, so they can be good group leaders. They are objective so they can play an important role in solving conflicts. When it is about emotional issues silent learners need help to understand.

Other learners are generally happy to accept a leader who can be calm in difficult times and is able to make explicit what is going on. They may however get impatient because (s)he starts at the beginning and ends at the end and they may prefer to see a leader who shows more passion and enthusiasm.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of different learners?
Give silent learners the roles they do best, for example making a summary of the discussion at the end of the session or make a long-term plan for the group work. Help students to embrace and work with diversity and make it explicit during group work.

Discussion activities

Learning through discussion requires the learner to articulate their ideas and questions, and to challenge and respond to the ideas and questions from the teacher, and/or peers. For example: class discussions, discussion forums, webinars.

Silent learners When the discussion is well structured they will participate but they will expect the discussion leader to give them the floor and are very unlikely to interrupt or simply speak up. Their input can be very valuable but it requires effort and understanding to make sure they are allowed to contribute.

Other learners can be irritated at what they see as passivity. They are impatient and want to move on and the more reflective group members’ attention to detail and procedure can lead to frustration.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of different learners?

  • Make the group aware of the value of diversity in the group discussion. The silent learner often expresses values, principles and vision. (S)he can stay objective and providing structure.
  • Do some listening exercises (note-taking, letting everyone speak without interruption etc) to make group members aware of the fact that their listening skills can be improved.
  • Let students prepare discussion topics on their own. Some students are not able to listen to others because they have too much in their head they want to share.

Production activities

Learning through production is the way the teacher motivates the learner to consolidate what they have learned by articulating their current conceptual understanding and how they use it in practice. For example: essays, designs, animations, videos, slideshows, blogs.

Silent learners are mostly thinkers and writers; doing things is less rewarding to them. Allow them space to work alone sometimes and give them enough time to make a production. When they are involved in production, they will maintain the group vision, give structure to the process and can be very helpful even if they do not do the hands-on work.

Other learners could think the silent learner is lazy because (s)he does not take action. They get irritated because they want to act first and the more silent learner wants to plan and reflect first.

How to improve the learning activities to meet the needs of different learners?
Talk about the process of production, before and after. Experiment with diversity, change group composition and reflect on it. Talk about the value of contributions after production. Let the silent learner give a presentation of her/his production when (s)he is satisfied about it. They will gain respect and often prove themselves as great “teachers”.

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