Ability based learning is a concept that attracts attention due to the polarizing nature of it. There are people who agree that by grouping students together who share the same learning capabilities will help them gain a deeper learning experience. In contrast, there are also the traditionalists who believe that students need to remain at the same pace of learning as others their age because of social factors. This blog post will outline what some of the research has found to be the advantages and disadvantages of ability based learning and the effects this learning environment has on students.
Benefits of Ability Based Learning Environments
- Students can move at their own pace: When students are grouped together based on skill level, the pressure is lessened of when the topic must be covered. The students that grasp the concept are able to move on when they have reached the appropriate understanding. Likewise, students with learning styles where they take longer to understand concepts are not falling behind because the class needs to move on; they simply take the time they need to learn and then progress at the appropriate time.
- Teachers can work closely with students: When students are grouped by ability, then collaborative work becomes important because this type of learning environment is heavily dependent on team work. While students are grouped together and learning from each other, the instructor can use the time to focus on learners who need more one on one attention.
- Students can be challenged: Students who progress quickly through curriculum material (e.g. gifted students) can be appropriately challenged when they are being grouped with others in their ability group. This way, gifted students continue to be motivated throughout the academic year without having to lose momentum while other students are still catching up.
Disadvantages of Ability Grouping
- Possibility of exclusion and anxiety: By grouping students together based on ability, there is the possibility that some students will experience discomfort with being placed into a group that is considered a lower or higher learning level. Groupings also highlight the differences in cognitive abilities among students and can lead to feelings of isolation and separation from the larger group.
- Students in a lower grouping may work to that level: If students are placed in a grouping where learning is done at a slower pace and concepts are understood in a longer period of time, then some students may work to that level even though they are capable of achieving more. There is the possibility of pigeon-holing students into how “smart” they are and some may only work to the level they are grouped in.