Individual Differences and Their Educational Implications


There are vital observable phenomenon among the human species. One of them is the variations occurring  within and between individuals. The said variations cover the known traits or the attributes or characteristics possessed by individuals.

That phenomenon is called individual differences. Individual differences are usually of two types: intra-individual and inter-individual differences. The differences observable in practical individual behaviors or performances are described as intra-individual differences.

For example, there would be obvious observable differences on the part of the individual performance. Intra-individual differences refer to the differences that exist between one person and another.

More importantly, no individuals are alike or even similar in all respects. Differences even abound in identical or monozygotic twins. The phenomenon of individual differences is very much related to traits or characteristics possessed.

Major areas of individual differences


We have earlier stated that variations occur in and between individuals concerning all known traits. However, these differences could be conveniently grouped into the following:

  • Physical differences: This refers to differences in height, size, weight, color, and texture of the eyes and hairs.
  • Physiological differences: This refers to the differences in the internal organs and their functioning. For example, differences exist between individuals in the sizes and functioning of the liver, the kidney, the brain, the endocrine glands, the heart, etc.
  • Psychological differences: This refers to the differences in mental processes and behavior. It includes such differences as intelligence, emotion, learning, keenness of our senses and reaction time, personality, motivation, etc.
  • Social differences: This borders on the differences in our relationship with others and it includes differences in interests, attitudes, preferences, etc.
  • Age differences: Individual age varies based on age.
  • Differences in Maturation: Differences also occur both within and among individuals in the rate at which the different organs mature and function.

Reasons for individual differences

Several factors have been advanced to account for the obvious differences usually observed. The principal of these factors includes heredity and environment. One of the interesting yet unresolved issues in educational psychology is the nature-nurture controversy.

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Some writers maintain that most or entirely all of our traits are determined by our genetic inheritance (Jensen, 1973).

The pattern of the genotype being possessed by each individual is said to determine the individual physical and behavioral characteristics (Phenotypes).

This is the idea that individual behaviors that include physical and intellectual developments, are determined by the type of environment and are said to be the principal determinant of individual differences and personality.

What however seems to be obvious is neither heredity (nature) factor nor the environmental (nurture) factor alone can fully account for individual differences.

Heredity sets the upper and lower limits of potential which an individual can attain. The attainment of the potential will however depend on how stimulating or repressive the environment is.

Other ancillary factors which can be responsible for influencing individual differences include learning and maturation. Differences between individuals can come about as a result of the differences in learning experiences to which they have been exposed.

Besides, the rate at which individuals mature may vary. Some individuals mature very early while others tend to mature very slowly. Maturation variability therefore can also account for individual differences.

Educational implications of individual differences

Teachers and educationalists need to be consistently aware of the phenomenon of individual differences while dealing with children and learners generally.

The knowledge of individual differences will come in very handy for the teacher, and by the same token, the learners the strive for the attainment of the teaching-learning objective. The implications will therefore be that:

  • The teacher should individualize his teaching given the differences among learners.
  • The knowledge of individual differences will enable the teacher to understand and tolerate the inherent differences among learners.
  • Counselling techniques to be adopted by the teacher should be based on the counseling needs of individuals because of individual differences.
  • The teachers should give assignments or responsibilities to individuals on the bases of their capabilities.
  • The teacher should employ different motivation techniques in stimulating the different learners’ interests.
  • The teacher should also endeavor to make use of a variety of teaching aids to ensure that the message gets across to different learners and that their attention is also secured.
  • Learners’ sitting arrangement should also be considered by the teacher, the sitting arrangement should be such that, for instance, those learners who are shortsighted (myopic) or are hard of hearing are to be seated in front of the class or close to the loudspeaker where it is in use.
  • Group assignments should be given occasionally. The groups should consist of individuals with different abilities. This enables relatively weak students to learn from their peers.
  • The teacher should as much as possible avoid labeling learners, this could lead to a lot of emotional discomfort to individuals labeled and such labeling could lead to dislike for the teacher, school, and learning.
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It has been established that learners are unique individuals who tend to bring a critical set of variables to each learning situation.

This learning situation includes delicate traits as indicators of their potential and the history of achievement as signs of previous accomplishments and predictors of future performance.

Many individual differences affect the performance and attitudes of learners during the teaching and learning process.

According to Kuzgun and Deryakulu, 2004), the most common differences in learners are gender, age, intelligence, ability, interest, prior knowledge, learning style, motivation, locus of control, self-efficacy, and epistemological beliefs.


The teacher in the classroom should understand that every student has individual differences distinguishing them from one another. Therefore, let us know how to handle above-average, average and below-average students in the class to learn. Every student tends to learn.

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