Learner Variability

What Teachers and Students Need to Know about Learner Variability

In an article published on the Learning Counsel, Betsy Hill and Roger Stark write …

Teachers and students have known since the time of Socrates that learners are different from each other, with different perspectives and aptitudes. These days, it may seem as if there is more variability in classrooms than ever when it comes to what students know and can do.  However, it is also important to remember that intra-learner variability can be just as great and just as perplexing as inter-learner variability, especially for the learners involved.

It is easy to oversimplify what students bring to the learning process. One student is an A student.  Another is a B student. There are “math students” and “language students,” “art students” and “auto mechanics students.”

Still, we know that few learners are that consistent. An A student may get an occasional B. A B student may get an A from time to time.  Average students are only average on average. And if there is truly an average student somewhere, he or she has never been in one of my classrooms.

As educators and students, we oversimplify in large part because we usually don’t have the tools to see what’s underneath the learning successes and struggles each student has. But it is essential since recent research has shown those underlying learning processes, called cognitive skills, account for 40 to 50 percent of the variability in academic performance.  In other words, learning struggles are very often not attributable to curriculum or instruction but to the specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses of each student.

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