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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Imagine a world where resources were limited to what was found in the classroom or the school closet known as the "Curriculum Materials Room." Picture a world where students wrote letters with pen and paper to communicate with other students and adults outside of the building. Due to postage costs, the teacher either sent the letters in bulk or paid for stamps out of his or her own pocket. Can you recall a time when student interests like skateboarding or video were never used as part of learning curriculum because the tools needed were either too expensive or not yet conceptualized? Do you remember a time when non-traditional learners struggled, and absenteeism meant a high likelihood of students doing poorly in school, and possibly having to retake the course?

If you experienced none of these scenarios, then you live in a world of possibility because you grew up with the many social media tools available to support all learners. If any of these scenarios bring back memories as a teacher or student, then you understand that we have many more tools today to ensure that learners succeed despite struggles, because students and teachers have so much more available to meet every learner's needs.

Selecting the Right Tool

For educators differentiating instruction, social media tools embrace collaboration and global access to people and other resources. We give students a variety of learning experiences that incorporate the capability to:

  • Exchange ideas
  • Provide positive, constructive, and kind feedback
  • Provide avenues to connect content with our learners' many different interests

The list of social media tools to differentiate for learning is increasing. This updated post explores more tools. At the end, I've included a link to twice as many tools that have become available in the year and a half since original publication: 100+ resources. First, let's consider the important framework to successfully use these tools for and by the learners.

Differentiating with social media is most effective when we plan learning experiences based on content, process, and product (our lesson structure) and incorporate readiness, interests, and learning profiles (student voice). The following guidelines can help any classroom teacher ensure that the tool used will address students' needs:

  1. Be clear about the academic learning outcomes.
  2. Assess what students know and don't know.
  3. Identify related student background connections.
  4. Utilize social networks that can:
    • Address needs for struggling learners
    • Ensure that advanced learners are growing.
    • Connect content to authentic purposes in the world beyond school.
  5. Use fog-free assessments that track learner progress.

While the collaboration capabilities of many social media tools can overlap, some may be more effective than others depending on how they're customized for student voice.


Readiness focuses on a student's current academic skill level. Work is structured to help them address any gaps or needs for enrichment. Students work in like-skill groups for specific, targeted support to address a common need, such as guided reading or tiered (leveled) activities. They also collaborate in mixed-skill groups to support struggling students with needed skill development. Additionally, experiences can stretch the advanced students in a mixed-skill group -- they may have the core skills, yet the critical thinking challenges them and their teammates.

Consider these tools to assist with readiness:


Allowing students to tackle work based on the option that makes the most sense to them is crucial for cognitive connections. Seeing a concept in context of a topic in which the learner has great interest -- and possibly expertise -- can help him or her turn abstract ideas into concrete purpose. For example, a young lady’s vlog series about her visit to a different country or maintaining and marketing a personal gaming channel opens up many possibilities for demonstration of skills in several content areas.

Here are some tools to help focus on student interests:

  • Youtube Playlists: There are many videos that address content from different perspectives, including the one way that a particular student or teacher needs to see it. Create playlists (like this one) to provide that variety.
  • Screencastify, Jing, and Snagit are tools that enable students to capture video of their screen. Video capture software allows students to use their resources such as gaming, coding, or productivity software, and capture it for video uploads. Here's an example using Minecraft: Building a Fusion Reactor from my Minecraft for Learning playlist.
  • Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts are video conferencing tools that include recording. They enable students to connect with field experts on relating content to the world outside of school. Experts are more likely to participate in mentoring and sharing their knowledge when they save time by not having to travel to the school.

Learning Profiles

When students address concepts from diverse perspectives, especially in collaborative groups, it can lead to in-depth understanding. Learning profiles are about providing each student with experiences that incorporate a variety of learning style elements, not just one. Such activities help students find deeper connections, especially if they share points of view via peer reflection and dialog.

Try these tools:

  • Thinglink uses pictures to place links in different locations where viewers can click to learn more. Here's an example.
  • Piktochart lets you create infographics to offer a visual explanation of a concept or idea.
  • Tackk lets you create small interactive pages or build a portfolio of work using different media tools.
  • Moovly, MindMup, PowToon, and Dipity are tools that provide students with different ways to express their ideas, such as mindmaps, timelines, and video presentations. Give students a mix of tools and they will find what works best for them.

And the List Keeps Growing

Here is the complete list of 100+ social media tools for exploration. Consider which will best fit the current needs of your diverse learners. More will be added on a regular basis. What tools do you use? Please share in the comments section below. They'll get added to the 100+ list.

Endless Possibilities

We truly are in a brave new world -- the good kind -- where differentiation opportunities evolve due to the variety of social media tools available. No longer are students and teachers limited to resources purchased for the classroom. For example, 1:1 computing grows as schools understand the value of student contact with outside resources. As more schools allow students to use their "internet devices" (i.e. phones), learning options increase with access to social media apps and other online tools such as those mentioned above.

In the past, limited access placed a hardship on teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students, especially when school resources were limited. In this brave new world, we are fortunate to live and work in an environment where the possibilities are endless for getting students what they need when they need it, and in a format that works best for them. How are you tapping possibilities to meet learner needs?

Was this useful? (3)
Differentiated Instruction
When it comes to how students learn, one size does NOT fit all.

Comments (25) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning

Hi Ken,
I deeply appreciate the shout out. Let's both keep up the great work. So important for students :)

Jeanne McCarthy's picture

John, the way you have the list of tools broken out with how they can be used to differentiate and assess is awesome. Totally copying:)
Keep up the great thinking.

Susan's picture

Hi John, I am an education professor who introduced this article last year to student teachers in a seminar class; helpful, thanks! With the focus on personalized learning, was wondering if you'd be interested in writing a piece on transmedia storytelling and how that could connect with students and learning in the classroom? Check out www.emmettfurey.com - he could inform the article.

Madiha Abbas's picture

After reading your article, I learnt that selecting the right tool, readiness, interests and learning profiles help teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students. The way the list of tools was broken out with how they can be used to differentiate and assess is also very beneficial for me as a teacher to understand the dynamics of differentiated planning incorporating the digital technology.
Recommending my fellow colleagues to read your article to gauge how digital technology can be integrated in differentiated planning.

Candace Alstad-Davies - A+ Resumes For Teachers's picture
Candace Alstad-Davies - A+ Resumes For Teachers
Dedicated To Helping Educators Advance Their Careers Quickly, Easily, And With Less Stress For 15+ Years

What a detailed list of technology tools to benefit students, if used correctly will add value to their learning experience in many ways. It is hard to keep up with all the changes in tech - but it is fun trying to. Thank you for your sharing your knowledge John. Have an extraordinary day! :-)

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning

Thanks for your reflection. It's very affirming. Hope you enjoy the 50 additional resources added. :)

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning

Thanks for sharing your insights about the list. Now it's doubled :) More fun finding tools to use. Perhaps include your students in the selection process?

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning

Thank you for your thoughts. Would love to know a tool that you found intriguing from the list?

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