2. Learner Support

2.2. Scaffolding

Figure 3: Learner support

I use the term scaffolding to cover the many functions in diagnosing and responding to learners’ difficulties, including:

  • Helping students when they struggle with new concepts or ideas.
  • Helping students to gain a deeper understanding of a topic or subject.
  • Helping students to evaluate a range of different ideas or practices.
  • Helping students to understand the limits of knowledge.
  • Above all challenging students to go beyond their current level of thinking or practice to acquire deeper understanding or a higher level of competency.

These activities normally take the form of personal interventions and communication between an instructor and an individual or a group of students, in face-to-face contexts or online. These activities tend not to be pre-planned, requiring a good deal of spontaneity and responsiveness on the part of the teacher or instructor. 

However, more recently there have been examples of automated learner support, such as virtual assistants or chatbots (for a review of research on chatbots in education, see Winkler and Söllner, 2018). Also learning analytics have been used to determine a student’s performance and where necessary to direct them to further readings or work (see for instance, Vesin et al., 2018). 

Scaffolding is usually a means of individualizing the learning, enabling student differences in learning to be better accommodated as they occur.