Diversity in the Learning and Teaching Process

Diversity in the learning and teaching process

Learning and teaching situations and processes are influenced by many different factors. Different approaches might reveal the relevance of different diversity categories and their interdependencies with framework conditions.
Diversity-focused teaching reflects both on different diversity categories and on the different factors influencing teaching and studies.

This includes, in particular:

» The students’ individual situation
  • Prior knowledge, learning strategies, resources available including time, belief in oneself and one's ability to succeed
» The lecturer’s individual situation
  • Didactics and methodical competence, pedagogic focus, image of themselves as a lecturer (learning support, expert in the field, etc.), competence as a seminar leader, attitude towards diversity, technical expertise
» Interaction context
  • Learning climate, learning and teaching culture, experience and values, course format, time and location
» Institutional conditions
  • Study concepts (full-time/part-time), learning and teaching media, study regulations, assessment formats, study support offers, options and barriers to analogue and digital learning location
» Teaching materials
  • Inclusive language, accessible materials, clear content, visualisations, no stereotyping presentations, recipient-focused

This list is provided by way of example and does not claim to be comprehensive.

Diversity categories

Teaching development pursues a broad understanding of diversity. Both personal diversity and differences in access to, and requirements for, studies and teaching are taken into account. Diversity is multifaceted and can take different shapes, comprising similarities as well as differences.
Diversity management concepts focus on social categories. These might affect teaching directly, but they often influence both learning and teaching indirectly. In learning and teaching research, other categories are considered to have greater direct relevance to learning; these can be summarised under the heading of heterogeneity.

Social categoriesCategories in teaching and learning research
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Social origins
  • Migration status 
  • Ethnicity
  • Care obligations
  • Dis_ability
  • Sexual identity
  • Lifestyle
  • Study motivation
  • Prior knowledge relevant to studies (‘knowing what’)
  • Learning strategies (‘knowing how’)
  • Affective-motivational aspects, such as
    • Belief in oneself and one's ability to succeed,
    • Analytical depth
    • Readiness to be distracted and to procrastinate
    • Emotions such as fear of failure
    • Certainty/uncertainty approach
    • Willingness to commit effort and stamina
  • Preferred learning and teaching formats
  • Linguistic competences
  • Intelligence
  • Technical discipline
  • Experience studying/semester
  • Social integration into the university
  • Influence on teaching and studies

Social categories, such as gender, might influence the degree choice, social origins might impact on university entry and study motivation, characteristics attributed to ethnic origins (often implicitly) might change expected performance, care obligations might result in the need for more flexible study concepts, barriers to study might necessitate affirmative action for students with disabilities, students and lecturers whose gender and sexual orientation do not match a two-gender perception or heterosexuality might suffer discrimination, different life and professional experiences might offer opportunities for changing perspectives, initial irritation and feelings of isolation might be the starting point for (self-)reflection and joint learning processes.
Learning success will be influenced by the extent to which the students’ preferred learning formats match the teaching methods provided, and this might also impact on belief in oneself and one's ability to succeed, readiness to be distracted and to procrastinate, and fear of failure. Study-related prior knowledge, and the range of learning strategies available to the student, also relate to the ability to acquire technical knowledge and hone competences, the students’ (expert) language competences will affect their learning speed, the relationship between majorities and minorities can influence group processes and social cohesion at the university.

Depending on teaching design and on the attitudes of lecturers and learners towards diversity, differences and similarities might also open up learning opportunities and new perspectives or create tunnel vision, - constructive or destructive - conflicts or encourage assumptions to be questioned.

Social links between diversity and inequality will have an effect on the university and there is the risk that the university might even strengthen them. However, diversity is not omnirelevant. In many situations, diversity only plays a minor role or no role at all. While differences should be recognised and teaching should reflect on them, they should also not be dramatised. Focusing on differences might hide similarities and reproduce stereotypes and lines of difference.

Open definition of diversity

To apply the concept introduced by Deleuze/Guattari, diversity can be seen as a rhizome: It grows in all directions, takes different shapes depending on the perspective, and has no natural hierarchy, origin or stated objective. 

It is not possible to generally state which form of diversity might be relevant. This question must be re-investigated based on the specific context and situation, and it might accordingly imply different consequences for action.