Importance of Differentiating Instruction in the Adult Ed Classroom

Posted by on March 28th, 2017

Differentiation is an instructional method designed to meet the needs of all students. It requires teachers to teach the same material in multiple ways. Because adult learners bring a range of personal experience, prior knowledge and exposure to their learning, differentiation is a necessary instructional tool.

Differentiation provides an opportunity to start where your students are and move forward. Methods of differentiating can include content, learning environment, process or product.


Content – Content refers to what students needs to know. Examples of differentiating content include:

  • Using readiness leveled text and vocabulary lists.
  • Providing multiple levels of the same content.
  • Offering the same material through both audio and visual means.


Learning Environment – Physical and psychological elements play a role in the learning environment. Environmental differentiations are:

  • Seating arrangements; Arrange tables/desks in small groups, pairs or even individual arrangements.
  • Proximity of seating to learning material also impacts the environment.
  • Providing materials that represent a variety of home and cultural settings
  • Creating routines and clear guidelines to foster an atmosphere of autonomy.
  • Encouraging independence and the sense of personal ownership and responsibility for learning.


Process – Process is how the information is delivered to students.

  • One-on-one, coupled, small group and whole group content delivery.
  • Allowing students to choose their preferred means for obtaining knowledge according to their learning style.
  • Providing hands-on and other manipulative support.
  • Introducing tiered information with varying levels of support and challenge.



Product – The end result, or product, of a learning module can also be differentiated. This allows students to most accurately demonstrate their mastery of a concept based on their learning style. Samples of differentiated products include:

  • Visual aids or graphic organizers that demonstrate understanding of the content.
  • Oral reports.
  • Written reports.
  • Choose your-own-assignment.


The elements of product, process, learning environment and content can all be adjusted to meet the needs of learners. Adequate assessment provides a baseline of student knowledge and exposure. This insight will allow you to determine which students will need new instruction, identify those that need refreshing and recognize those that would benefit from an extension or challenge.

Meeting each of these needs is differentiation. However, the successful implementation of differentiated models takes additional planning and resources. The benefit of using differentiated instruction within the classroom is an increased likelihood of skills mastery for more students. An added benefit is that differentiation brings relevance to students’ prior knowledge and encourages them to continue learning.

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