Differentiated instruction in higher education : an embedded qualitative single case study.


Access rights

Worldwide access

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Higher education in the United States does not effectively meet the needs of diverse learners due to the persistence of lecture-based teaching methods (Dosch & Zidon, 2014; Ernst & Ernst, 2005; Jorgensen & Brogaard, 2021; Turner et al., 2017). Evidenced by this overreliance on the lecture-based model is the rise of students required to retake courses, longer time to degree attainment, and a decrease in overall degree attainment rates despite colleges becoming increasingly accessible to more diverse student populations now than in the past (Brock, 2010; Dosch & Zidon, 2014; Schmidt et al., 2015). The inclusion of the tenets of Differentiated Instruction (DI) can positively impact student learning outcomes by promoting changes in instructors’ delivery and instructional methods within higher education. DI is extensively researched and implemented in K–12 settings, yet there exists little research about its effectiveness in higher education.

This embedded qualitative single case study investigated the experiences and perceptions of a Communication Science and Disorders (CSD) instructor and her respective students regarding DI use in a higher education course. The CSD instructor completed online professional development modules, which disseminated pertinent information regarding DI principles and practices and how those could be applied to a Language Development class. The data collected, including open-ended questions, a research assignment artifact, and a pre-and-post DI questionnaire, allowed for in-depth analysis of instructor and student perceptions. The findings indicated that the use of DI strategies improved instructor DI awareness and validation of instruction and student appreciation for more varied use of teaching methods reflecting DI principles.

The implications of the study are that DI can improve higher education instructor teaching practices and thus, increase student understanding and performance of learned content. The impact of the study lies in the potential that DI can have on reaching diverse student learners, decreasing remediation rates of courses, and increasing the number of students reaching degree attainment. The findings of this study provide evidence for positive change in college courses that support learning for all students.