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Masters in Educational Practice: Professional learning


Research informing practice

What is the topic about?

Linking to the previous section, this topic highlights how data and other research evidence can be used to enhance practice, focusing on strategies for effective differentiation and personalised learning.

Writing more than a half a century ago, the American educationalist Carleton Washburne (1953) asked a question that is even more relevant today in our diverse society.

How can the teacher best meet – and most widely use – the wide range of differences in abilities, interests and development represented by the children under his guidance?

In this topic we explore how data and other research evidence can support what we now call ‘differentiation’ and ‘personalised learning’. The relevance of these topics is borne out by the recent OECD (2014, p.9) report on improving schools in Wales. The report concludes that schools need ‘to better cater for the individual learning needs of its students’ and that ‘a growing body of research evidence shows that this can be done through differentiated teaching’. It also suggests that Welsh schools need ‘to move towards more personalized learning while still setting high expectations for every child’ (OECD, 2014, p.8).

While differentiation is about how practitioners meet the different needs of learners, personalised learning focuses upon creating an environment so that learners take responsibility for learning, e.g. in setting goals, monitoring their progress towards achieving these and having a say in what and how they learn.

Both differentiation and personalised learning are underpinned by the theory that intelligence is not fixed and that all learners are capable of improving their learning, irrespective of differences say in ability, prior experience or gender (Dweck, 2006). Hence the focus is on learners’ potential rather than current ability – what they could achieve with support.

We have chosen differentiation and personalised learning as two topics to illustrate how research informs practice. As with all topics, there is a need to engage critically with research and not to accept at face value what is presented. As a reminder, Topic 2 provides advice on how to read critically.

In summary, the main differences between differentiation and personalised learning are as follows.

  • Differentiation is led by the practitioner who seeks to match lessons to the different needs of learners.
  • Personalised learning is driven by the learner who takes increasing responsibility for learning.


  • To understand how research may inform practice, and note examples of research-informed practice that helps meet the diverse needs of learners.
  • To consider research evidence and strategies relating to effective differentiation and how these could be used in the classroom.
  • To examine research evidence and strategies relating to personalisation and how these could be used in the classroom.
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