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The case against a one-size-fits-all education

The journey that each child takes through education is different. In the past this journey was defined by its destination, a successful education marked only by student attainment in exams. More recently, the focus has shifted onto the journey itself, and onto the need for pathways to suit every student’s individual needs. John Dewey (1934) stated that education should be a ‘life learning process’ which recognizes the richness of the senses and of perception in formulating how we experience and participate in the world. So how does an education that denies this ‘richness’ affect the individual learner? And what can be done to ensure that every student’s needs are met?

Firstly, there are seven common learning styles:

  • Aural
  • Verbal
  • Physical
  • Visual
  • Logical
  • Solitary
  • Social

Where one child might thrive in a traditional classroom, listening to a lecture and studying their homework in solitude, another child might struggle to attain knowledge without experience or conversation. A model of education that fails to cater for more learning styles than one will be unequipped to lead each and every student to their fullest potential.

Many schools use only a single mode of teaching because, in practice, the resource required to create a varied learning experience is different from that of writing a lecture or creating a PowerPoint. Understandably it’s a challenge to aid struggling students and challenge others, while simultaneously ensuring the entire classroom is kept occupied.

What are the alternatives and how can they be used realistically?

The ‘Socratic Method’ is just one of many ways a school may vary the learning experience. This method utilizes the classroom to promote cooperative, stimulating dialogue between students and teacher. While this method develops critical thinking, articulacy, and public speaking, it also engages students who might otherwise be left behind in the traditional classroom setting. As students become active participants in their own learning experience, they process and retain information in a way that is proven more effective long-term.

The Learning Curve

In fact, over a hundred years ago, Hermann Ebbinghaus devised ‘The Learning Curve’ which details the relationship between memory and time. In short, the theory explains that during a lecture, if your absorption rate is at 100% on day one, then there is a 50-80% loss of learning from the second day forward, which is finally reduced to just a 2-3% retention rate at the end of thirty days.

Creating a student-centered classroom

A differentiated learning environment or a student-centered classroom is characterized by offering students the space, tools, and support they need to take control of their own learning. Teaching might involve a combination of approaches; social learners might be offered the opportunity to problem solve in a group while physical learners might benefit from experiencing a topic outside of the classroom. Research finds that students learning in this kind of setting are proven to be more engaged and higher achieving.

Why is any of this important?

Students who are spoon fed knowledge and not challenged to process or understand fully, are unlikely to reach their potential in academia or in life. A one-size-fits-all education is ultimately very limiting, and schools who fail to acknowledge this are bound to leave many children out on the fringes questioning what went wrong.

It’s important that education is for everyone, and that each child receives the kind of well-rounded experience that will set them up to be the best they can be. How can we empower students and encourage them to be innovative, curious, and open-minded? We can start by offering them an education that is all of those things.



Want to see an academic environment where students really thrive? EF Academy offers an unrivaled level of student support and guidance to ensure that no learner is left behind.

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