Supporting The Learner

It is hard to talk about scaffolding without incorporating the ideas of differentiation. These theories are not mutually exclusive and are about the educator making calculated decisions to assist students on their learning journey so that they can be successful and reach their potential.

Scaffolding is about providing the right assistance necessary to enable learners to complete tasks and gain understandings that could not normally be done independently. This is not done by chance but is rather trough the educator sequencing tasks with and through ‘the quality of their support and guidance’ (Hammond 2001 p. 15) to drive students beyond their current skills and comprehensions.

Hammond (2001) suggests that there are 2 elements that are essential for scaffolding to be successful.

  1. Teachers need to have a sound knowledge of the curriculum are their students are interacting with.
  2. Teachers need a deep understanding of what specific tasks demand of students so that they can be successful in achieving a set goal.

Differentiation is about meeting the needs of an assorted group of individuals who have different strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and learn in a variety of ways. Every time an educator considers these needs and makes an adjustment to the program to ensure inclusivity for an individual or group it is considered differentiation (Tomlinson 2000).

Brickell and Herrington (2006) suggest that scaffolding or support based in an e-learning environment should be designed to consider the metacognitive process students will explore throughout the program. Deliberate and meaningful support needs to be used to assist students and provide direction for their line of inquiry.

In the case of online learning and instructional design, the teacher is not always in the same location as students which makes the two points mentioned by Hammond (2001) even more relevant. Content, Process, Products and Learning Environment are all areas where it is possible to provide teacher directed assistance for students whether it is labelled as scaffolding or differentiation. There is very little that an instructional design can do about the learning environment other than make recommendations.

If the primary focus of sound instructional design is to develop a successful learning experience for the student then scaffolding is essential. An educator needs to understand the content and context to develop a program designed for students to learn and be successful learners. This includes knowing your audience and diversity within them. Through having these insights, combined with an exceptional grasp of the content and the demands required for success, ‘structures’ can be built into a program to support learners working at different levels and abilities.

This instructional design provides support for students in the areas of content, process and product as outlined below.


  • Visual aids that reflect the written content to assist students with a lower level of comprehension
  • Highlighted keywords
  • Following the Inverted Pyramid when adding content
  • Shared workspaces where students work collaboratively and can support each other
  • Providing content in multimodal ways (visual, auditory)


  • Tired activities
  • Students select a line of inquiry that is of interest to them
  • Use thinking tools (i.e. 5 whys) to encourage students to explore their concept in greater detail
  • Allow for variation in the time needed to complete tasks
  • Modify types of tasks for individual needs (i.e. Dysgraphia can type on the computer)


  • Students can select ways to express the required outcomes
    • Use Minecraft to build a Gold Mining town
    • Create a digital portfolio of their work in PowerPoint
    • Use mind maps to represent their thinking and the connection between concepts
  • Use a rubric for the student to see what they need to show and how they can up-level their work




Brickell, G. and Herrington, J. (2006). Scaffolding learners in authentic, problem based e-learning environments: The Geography Challenge. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 22(4), 531-547
Hammond, J. (Ed.). (2001a). Scaffolding teaching and learning in language and literacy education. Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2000). Differentiation of instruction in the elementary grades. ERIC Digest. Available:


Hometent Identify the desired resultsgold_nugget


Assessment and Evidencescale
Curriculum Outcomes


Planning for Inquiry (Kath Murdoch/Kathy Short Inquiry Model)arrows-1577983_960_720

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