What to look for in a personalized learning plan

If you’re involved in the education community, chances are you’ve heard the term “personalized learning” floating around over the last few years. It certainly sounds appealing – after all, it includes the term “personal,” which can’t be a bad thing. The phrase itself suggests that learning will be transformed from a one-size-fits-all approach to something more, well, personal. But what does it really mean?

At its core, personalized learning is all about tailoring instruction to meet the needs of each individual student. It’s a move far away from the standardized teaching and testing for which the education system is currently structured. When teachers are responsible for up to 30 kids at a time, this may seem like an impossible task – how on earth are you going to have enough time to give each student the personalized attention needed to make sure he or she is learning in an optimal way? To solve this issue, many school districts have turned to the use of Adaptive Learning programs in blended learning environments, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

What you should look for when searching for personalized learning technology:

Gives control to students
The way most classrooms are currently structured, teachers tell students what they need to learn – they assign lessons and homework – and students must blindly follow. While teachers are undoubtedly the experts and students may stand to benefit from this, personalized learning takes a different approach. The goal is for teachers to create independent learners who can set their own goals, monitor their progress and reflect on their learning. A personalized learning program needs to give control to students by allowing them to choose from different virtual manipulatives when learning a new concept.

Different paths through curricula
Because no two students are alike, no two students learn in exactly the same way. In the traditional classroom model, teachers may try to combat this issue by separating students into small groups or creating independent study time so they can work one-on-one with students who are struggling. However, allowing students to work with technology that can offer them multiple learning paths through curricula can be much more efficient and effective. Instead of following a single track of lessons, the best personalized learning programs will give students millions of potential pathways to follow through curricula and end up with the desired result – true comprehension.

Allows students to explore
As previously mentioned, personalized learning is designed to create independent learners who can use their critical thinking skills to solve problems. This is a skill they can carry with them throughout their lives. As you search for personalized learning platforms to use in your school district, look for a system that gives students the opportunity to explore problems and demonstrate their understanding before instruction is provided. This way, the program can assess what students already know, what could use some work, and base its approach to instruction on this knowledge.

Continually observes, analyzes and adapts
When you purchase a personalized learning program, it’s important that it enhances instruction in some way, rather than simply emulating what teachers already do. Because it’s impossible for teachers to interact with all students on an individual level at the same time, technology of this nature can be an important supplement. The personalized learning program you use should constantly be observing and analyzing students’ answers to problems and how they answer those problems, and then adapting instruction appropriately. All of this should be happening during the lesson, not at the end of it.

Focuses on the journey
With so much standardized testing happening throughout the U.S., teachers whose job evaluations are tied to their students’ exam scores may feel pressure to “teach to the test.” A good personalized learning program can help address this issue by making a point of focusing on the journey students are making rather than the end result. Instead of letting students go at it alone and not explaining what they got wrong after the fact, personalized learning programs should give students just enough guidance to push them in the right direction. Students’ powers of deduction, that is, how they are making choices when solving problems, should inform the instructional approach of the technology.

Doesn’t overly instruct or provide assistance
In that same line of thinking, it’s important that personalized learning programs don’t overly instruct or provide assistance to students. While students certainly should be given the instruction and tools they need to succeed, most students don’t want to be helped anymore than is absolutely necessary. The best personalized learning programs will deduce what this minimum is, and provide tiny hints and assistance as students progress within a problem or lesson, helping them understand the concept and come to the right answer.

What criteria do you use to determine whether or not a personalized learning program is right for your students? Share your thoughts with us!

Nigel Green

Director of Personalization @DreamBox_Learn | Developer of Continuous Assessment and Adaptation | Former Teacher | Professional Musician | Bellevue, WA