The COVID-19 pandemic created an educational environment that had never been seen before. Many students –– and instructors –– were abruptly forced to transition from traditional classroom learning to adopt a new remote format. It accelerated the emergence of a new dynamic learning environment, where students learn in innovative ways far different from how education systems were originally designed. With advancements in technology and the rise of remote learning, classrooms are being remodeled and redefined to fit the evolving needs of modern digital learners.
But if there’s one thing that educators have learned over the last two years, it’s that a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction doesn’t work when you want to empower everyone to succeed in the classroom. Many educators were forced to rethink how to keep students engaged, and pandemic-era learning has only further highlighted the importance of differentiated instruction.
The forced disruption was also the catalyst for students and teachers to quickly acquire digital skills that are ripe to be amplified, taking them from consuming skills to creating skills. As teachers integrate technology into their lesson plans, they’re discovering various classroom tools effective in reaching and enriching the minds of all types of students—from visual and auditory to kinesthetic learners.
Five Principles of Learning
Before exploring how technology can alleviate pressure from teachers to deliver the right teaching and learning environment that accommodates various learning styles, it is important to home in on Merrill’s Principles of Instruction. David Merrill studied various instructional design theories and models to identify a number of principles common to each. In his research, Merrill established five instructional principles that can be applied when designing a program or practice to achieve effective and efficient instruction across the various learning styles. In short, Merrill’s principles highlight that learning is promoted when:
- Learners are engaged in solving real-world problems;
- Existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge;
- New knowledge is demonstrated to the learner;
- New knowledge is applied by the learner;
- New knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.
These five principles outline the power of hands-on learning in each form, where each individual student makes real meaning of the process. It’s never been more important for educators to incorporate these principles into classroom practice and curriculum design, which employs STEM-thinking over siloed content understanding, to prepare students for an increasingly digital future.
Visual learners are at their best when they first see what they’re expected to know. These students are partial to seeing and observing vivid displays and can be engaged through the use of images, presentations and videos. Also known as “spatial” learners, these students might draw, make lists or take notes in order to interact and process information. Thinking back to Merrill’s Principles of Instruction, visual learners will absorb information more effectively when they see a prime example, typically through demonstration. For example, a visual demonstration of the task that outlines each step, and explores associated behaviors and skills.
Teachers can use technology to produce these visual aids to help students understand lessons. For instance, interactive displays allow teachers to apply the demonstration principle by showcasing educational videos, online tutorials, or even rich infographics that showcase main ideas. Closed captioning with videos can also enhance student engagement in the classroom. Using visual and auditory learning aids in tandem can help increase student’s retention of new information, with studies suggesting that captions can help improve students’ comprehension of topics and consequently, test scores.