Grilled Cheese: The Quest for Differentiated Professional Development

Written by Ana Rynders
Professional Development Specialist
Five Star Technology Solutions

Want to learn how to cook the ultimate grilled cheese? Shuffle down to your local library or bookstore and check out their cookbook section. Schedule a cooking class at the local cafe. Take it to YouTube and seek out a short video demonstrating how to make the best grilled cheese. Or, simply ask Google for grilled cheese recipes, and 4,070,000 results pop up. Why? Well, grilled cheese is delicious. But more importantly, the perfect grilled cheese depends greatly upon your preferences. It is no surprise that there is more than one “greatest grilled cheese” recipe. While I think I may have the perfect sandwich crafted, I am only as good as my latest grilled cheese attempt. When I seek out and know more about what types of cheeses, butter, and breads are available, I improve. Too, we learn in different ways. I can hone my skills to make my edible masterpiece even better. Sadly this post will not grant you the secret to the perfect grilled cheese. Instead, I have learned that this quest can be a great metaphor for my own education as an adult learner.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Nathan Dumlao

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If you are an educator in today’s modern classroom, you’ve heard the word “differentiation.” Differentiated instruction is facilitated through content, strategies, and end products. Educators use ongoing assessment in combination with flexible grouping to strategically address the needs of learners. We spend hours each week curating and crafting lessons that allow learners to flourish. We make the time and focus our effort on the experiences that provide opportunities for students to have a say in what they’re learning. For many years, professional development initiatives and one-size-fits-all trainings have been the norm. But, I’m here to tell you, it’s not just the youngest learners who need or want tailored instruction. Adults need differentiated instruction, too.

According to Malcolm Shepherd Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy, the art and science of adult learning, there are five major characteristics of adult learners:

  1. Self-concept
  2. Adult Learner Experience
  3. Readiness to Learn
  4. Orientation to Learning
  5. Motivation to Learn

Note Knowles’ fourth characteristic: Orientation to Learning. This characteristic is further explained through the definition of “self-directed learning.” According to the Teaching Excellence in Adult Learning project, self-directed learning or “SDL” is informal and takes place outside of the classroom. The learner knows their needs, goals, and plan, chooses resources, and then evaluates the outcome of their learning. Moreover, self-directed learning accounts for 70% of all adult learning (Cross, 1981). My application of learning depends upon the problems or issues that I face, and I am responsible to see it through to meet my goals. So, like many adults, after seeking new information to help me locate solutions, I make a plan and concentrate my efforts on carrying it out. If I want to learn more about installing laminate flooring, low impact workouts, or how to make homemade slime for 80 young people (any other former camp counselors out there?!) I begin by exploring and vetting my resources.

Finding excellent resources takes time. And, as all classroom teachers know, there never seems to be enough. So, as a busy educator, what do I do when I need information about a new tool, idea, or practice? Corporate anthropologist Karen Stephenson, author of What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole, said, “experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge.” Conversations surrounding our thinking are important as are the experiences of others. This is why creating a professional learning network or “PLN” is invaluable. My PLN — the teacher next door, an educator I follow on Twitter, my tech coach, or social media — holds knowledge that amplifies and supports my own. I, like many teachers out there, understand that the more tools I have at my fingertips and the more people I have in my network, the better I am for my students. Sometimes the sheer volume of resources can be overwhelming because I’m not absolutely certain of what I am looking for. So, I rely on the shared knowledge of my colleagues. But what happens if they, too, don’t know or are feeling too stretched? Or maybe there are multiple ways to reach the goal I have for my classroom and my learning? Do I toss out the fromage with the frying pan? Of course not!

What if I were to tell you that there is a way to differentiate educator professional development? A resource I can use to search curated, vetted, expertly-created, on-demand PD – one that helps me find and filter resources, participate in live workshops, or seek self-paced courses? A resource where I can access a gallery of lesson ideas connected to supplemental materials and tools that fit my needs? A resource where I can connect with other educators, experts, and live technology coaches? It exists, and I’ve experienced it!

Developed by educators, for educators, the Five Star Learning Lab is available at any time and from anywhere with an internet connection. The Five Star Learning Lab is one way that I can differentiate my own professional study. I can discover new ideas for myself without depending upon just the knowledge of my own network, and I can get guidance and help when I make a mistake. Plus, the Five Star Learning Lab tracks my professional growth points for me. My administrator can even locate specific self-paced courses to highlight for me! In the self-paced courses, learners are guided through video-based lessons, task prompts, and built-in assessment with reflection. These are perfect for busy educators who want to move at their own pace, develop ideas along the way, and keep track of their learning. Imagine the quality grilled cheeses I could enjoy if there were such a thing for grilled cheese!

Like making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, the forage for differentiated professional development can be lengthy. Yet, it is still achievable. With curated tools, experiential practice, community, and expert advice, the Five Star Learning Lab brings you the winning recipe all in bite-sized chunks. No more one-size-fits-all PD; now it’s catered to you!

Want to learn more about the Five Star Learning Lab? Schedule a complimentary consultation with our knowledgeable team to see how your school district can unlock the power of relevant, timely, and practical learning!



American Institute for Research. “TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 11: Adult Learning Theories.” Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, vol. 11, no. 11, 2011, p. 2. 11 TEAL Adult Learning Theory, https://lincs.ed.gov/sites/default/files/11_%20TEAL_Adult_Learning_Theory.pdf. Accessed 22 April 2021.

Pappas, Christopher. “The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcom Knowles.” eLearning Industry, 13 May 2013, https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles. Accessed 16 April 2021.

Stephenson, Karen. “What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole.” Internal Communication Focus, vol. 36, http://www.workecology.com/articles/icf.pdf. Accessed 16 April 2021.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. “What Is Differentiated Instruction?” Reading Rockets, https://www.readingrockets.org/article/what-differentiated-instruction. Accessed 16 April 2021.

Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.