Learning Preference Survey

The Possibilities For Learning Survey:

A Tool for Assessing Student’s Preferences for Different Types of Differentiation

     First, a story…..

     Many have known a young man like Alex.  He was 9 going on 90; he was worldly and wise, concerned about issues, controversies and global crises beyond his age.  He had intense, piercing questions and simple answers never satisfied him.  Even among his peers in a special school for gifted students, Alex was exceptional. 

     One day, early in my work with his class, he came to me with questions about my research.  He had some of those questions for me:  “Dr. K., why are you having us fill out these forms after we do activities with you?”

     “Well, I’m trying to find out the best ways for all of you to learn.”

     He looked down at the floor.  I knew he had more to say and he was trying to find a diplomatic way to say it.  He looked out from under the fringe of bangs across his forehead and said, “So, why don’t you just ask us?” 

     I did, and now I always do.  Alex remains one of my wisest teachers and the inspiration for the Possibilities for Learning Survey.[36]

The purpose of the Possibilities for Learning Survey is to find out how a student feels about learning in the ways recommended for gifted students so these preferences can be included in plans for their learning. The items are based on Maker and Nielson’s differentiation strategies. [1]  Asking high ability students which types of differentiation they prefer reduces the mystery surrounding the types of learning experiences that will be effective.  In addition, planning learning experiences around student’s favorite forms of differentiation personalizes them by honoring the student’s voice.

All students enjoy choosing and controlling aspects of their learning especially non- producing and underachieving students who have disengaged from classroom learning due to a sense of powerlessness or boredom [110].  Sharing responsibility for differentiating curriculum has motivational benefits that cannot be underestimated.  The Possibilities for Learning (PFL) survey uncovers preferences that can be used to guide the development of personalized learning experiences. With this information, choice, control, intrinsic motivation and passions can be inspired.

Students also learn about themselves in the process of assessing their learning preferences.  If others are also completing the form, there can also be growth in understanding diversity and individual differences.

Forms and Support Materials

First page of the PFL survey.

The survey and support materials for the Possibilities for Learning Survey are listed below and described in more detail on the pages linked to it.  If you know what you need and see it in the list below, click on it.  If you’re not sure, keep reading to learn more about the PFL, its development, and ways students and teachers can use it.


The purpose of the Possibilities for Learning (PFL) survey and its support materials is to let students identify the characteristics of challenging learning activities that they prefer when learning in their areas of strength and passion.  This information provides another starting point for individually sensitive curriculum design and program planning.  It can be used:

  • to enable a student to differentiate or design curriculum for her or himself
  • to enable a student to learn about her or his preferences
  • to focus a teacher’s planning for a student
  • by a teacher to understand a student or a class better
  • or to achieve any combination of these purposes

This is not a test; there are no scores. The PFL is a planning tool. It simply uncovers students’ learning preferences.

The survey is 13 pages long and has five parts.  Each part contains items that address one of the four elements of a learning activity.

  • Options for differentiating the learning environment appear in Part 1:  Settings for Learning
  • Options for differentiating the content appear in Part 2:  Ideas to Learn
  • Options for differentiating the process appear in Part 3:  Ways to Learn
  • Options for differentiating the product appear in Part 4:  Showing Your Learning
  • More content, process, and product options appear in Part 5:  Lists of Possibilities

Each of the statements in Parts One to Four is based on one or more of the learning strategies Maker & Nielson [1] recommend for gifted students.  Students rate each item on a 5-point scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.  For example, here are a few items from the survey:

SA     A     N     D     SD      I like learning at my own speed.
SA     A     N     D     SD      I like to teach others in my class.
SA     A     N     D     SD      I like to work alone on big projects.
SA     A     N     D     SD      I need to understand how and why things happen.

List of process options on page 12.

At the end of Parts 1 through 4, they identify the two items they like most and least.  These become top priorities in plans for the student’s learning.

The more specific lists of options included in Part Five (pages 11, 12 & 13 of the PFL form) have been selected from the author’s collection and lists provided Maker and Nielson[1] and others.

The PFL survey assesses learning preferences, it does not identify a student’s preferred learning style. Its purpose is to identify the characteristics of learning activities they enjoy most and least when they take on challenges in their favorite topics.  An individual’s learning style, by definition, is expected to be stable (or consistent) across all tasks and settings.  In contrast, an individual’s learning preferences are the opposite.  They vary depending on the subject, the nature of the task, other participating in the activity (including the teacher), and much more.  While learning styles are believed to be consistent across curriculum areas, the “possibilities” each student prefers may vary when the content area changes.

Using the Information

PFL responses indicate specific ways to differentiate curriculum immediately or in the future. These curriculum differentiation strategies can be included in lessons, units or Individual Educational Plans (IEPs).  The PFL results are not intended to drive the entire curriculum planning process.  The teacher must balance the student’s preferences, what they want, with their needs; time spent on strengths with time spent on weaknesses; new learning with practice activities, etc.  Achieving this balance is essential to a good education.

Teachers can use a student’s responses in a number of ways.

  • Briefly looking over a student’s responses on the PFL survey, especially their most and least favorite items, can provide insight into a student’s learning preferences.
  • Having students most and least favored items consolidated on the Summary Sheet reduces the highlights of their responses to a single, two-sided page.  This information can be considered when creating learning activities or IEPs, grouping students according to learning preferences, and/or communicating with parents.

Students can also use the PFL and follow-up activities in many ways.

  • They can learn what and how they like to learn, and how to describe them when advocating for themselves and suggesting ways their needs might be met.
  • The “Dream Sheet” can serve as a natural first step and on-going guide to their curriculum design efforts.
  • Learning contracts are also provided as possible ways to put this information into action.
  • When a group or an entire class completes the PFL, graphing and discussing the range of most and least favorite items can offer rich insights into individual differences among members of the group.

Parents find their children’s survey responses intriguing and insightful.  They may enjoy completing the survey themselves. Rich discussions can arise from comparisons of the child’s and parents’ responses in addition to the individual insights both gain into their own learning.