Skip main navigation

Increasing challenge and ownership of learning: Learning pyramids

A learning pyramid is a strategy to increase challenge, student ownership and learning by allowing the students to move forward in their learning.
[Andrea] One way of planning appropriate challenge that can also help increase student’s ownership of their learning is to have a menu of tasks. By monitoring how students are responding to tasks teachers can respond and adapt what the student does in order to influence their learning. One idea to structure this menu of tasks is to have a pyramid of learning. The teacher could ask the students to choose which level they feel they need to work at or direct them to the one they should start with. This structure shows fewer activities as you progress up, however, they increase in terms of the level of demand of the work and build on the ideas below.
If the teacher is worried that the students may choose the easier options, then they could say that everyone has to complete the top task and choose how many of the lower tasks they would like to attempt. Lower-level tasks could form part of what the students do when not in the lesson, and they can then work at the higher levels during the lesson, whilst the teacher is there to help and support them. We will see in the next step how teachers have managed this approach to differentiating for learning in their classroom. Groups of students can work through the activities at the rate of their learning and not be hindered by having to work at the rate of the whole-class.
Working in this way also frees up the teacher to circulate and intervene where most support is needed. As we have already discussed, differentiation is therefore not just something teachers plan to do at the start of the lesson, it is an on-going process that occurs throughout the learning by drawing on formative assessment practices.
In this video, Andrea suggests a strategy to increase student ownership, motivation and learning by allowing the students to move forward in their learning from the point they are at.
If used well this approach can help you to support and challenge all students to achieve the highest levels of learning.
The strategies underpinning this idea are:
  • Creating a menu of tasks linked to a progressive learning intention.
  • Working with students to identify their appropriate starting points.
  • Strategically grouping students to develop effective collaborative learning. .
The menu of tasks we are suggesting is a “pyramid of learning” [DOCX] [PDF]:
Pyramid of learning - see linked examples above
In the next step you will see teacher, Kate R, using a pyramid of learning with her class. We will ask you to observe and reflect on how she implemented it and consider ways in which you could adapt and use this idea.


  • What do you think are some of the challenges and benefits of allowing students to work in pairs or small groups to work at their pace through the learning?
  • How have you overcome such challenges if you have planned for lessons where your students have worked in this way?
Post your thoughts in the discussion below.
This article is from the free online

Differentiation for Learning

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education