Pros and cons of individualized instruction

Blended Learning

Personalized learning and individualized instruction are now recognized as crucial elements of student-centric teaching that fosters real progress and achievement. This is a significant departure from the way classrooms have been structured in the past as a ‘one size fits all’ environment with all students generally receiving information at the same time and same way as their peers, regardless of their prior knowledge or academic strengths and weaknesses.

Individualized instruction is bringing personalized learning to the classroom by tailoring teaching to each student based on his or her interests and capabilities. This would be a Herculean task for any one teacher, especially at a time when class sizes and demands are growing, but fortunately, data-driven adaptive learning technology is making it possible. Still, some aren’t sold on the idea of individualized instruction – after all, is it really worth spending the time and energy completely revamping the American education system? Like any innovation, adaptive learning may take some getting used to. But when the pros outweigh the cons, it’s well worth it.

PRO: Close learning gaps
In any classroom, there often are significant learning gaps between individuals. The challenge is to assist struggling students while simultaneously engaging gifted learners, but that is exactly what individualized instruction aims to do: delivering material at an optimal pace that caters to each student’s interests and abilities. Persistence in difficult topic areas while moving at a ‘just right’ pace through areas in which the student excels is the way to close learning gaps, and bring everyone to their highest personal level of achievement.

CON: Extra preparation
Individualized instruction often requires a great deal of preparation up front. If the school isn’t using an intelligent adaptive learning system that collects student data to achieve personalized learning outcomes, teachers will need to thoroughly research the academic history of each student and the ways he or she learns best. In addition, time and resources may have to be put into staff training and development as educators change their approach to teaching.

PRO: Build confidence in students
One of the main reasons that struggling students continue struggle is that they lose confidence in themselves and their intellectual capabilities. Individualized instruction can help students gain self-confidence as learners, because lessons are tailored to their specific abilities. As students gradually build comprehension and mastery of more complicated material, they gain the self-assurance that they have the skills they need to be successful. This, in turn, helps them progress more quickly.

CON: Teachers need to adjust to a new paradigm
With the many changes associated with the transitions to individualized instruction, personalized and blended learning, many teachers are questioning where they fit in the modern classroom. Are they being replaced by machines? Will they still get to do what they really love: teach? This is an understandable fear as technology has entirely displaced many other professions (remember the typing pool?). However, with class sizes growing past 30 in many districts, teachers are finding that the amount of time they have to spend with each student is being dramatically reduced. Rather than being replaced by personalized learning programs, many educators are finding that they are excellent teaching partners. The use of technology is designed to free the teacher to spend more time with individuals or small groups while the remainder of the class is enabled to work at their own pace with the program. And by leveraging the detailed student information many of these programs provide, the interactions between the teacher and the students can become even more productive. However, additional professional development will likely be required to fully realize these and other benefits of a move to a blended or individualized learning program.

PRO: Greater engagement for teachers and students
Implementation of an individualized learning approach to education has been shown to be a more engaging experience for both teachers and students. Instead of standing in the front of the classroom and explaining new concepts, stopping to pause as students (hopefully) calmly and patiently raise their hands, teachers have more opportunities to interact with students one-on-one when using individualized instruction in their classrooms. Self-directed, more independent learning frees up opportunities for teachers to talk with students, assess where they are academically, and how their individual learning plan can be tweaked to achieve maximum results.

CON: Restructuring the classroom
Implementation of this new approach to education may require a great deal of classroom restructuring. For many school districts, hiring extra teachers to make individualized instruction possible is not an option. Instead, they are turning to intelligent adaptive learning programs and one or several blended learning models. This may require a significant investment in technology up front, but will help many districts save money in the long run. Classroom structures may need to be adjusted to accommodate individualized learning – in other words, instead of the traditional rows of desks facing the blackboard, classroom seating arrangements may need to be more flexible, so that the teacher can work with individuals or small groups while the majority of students work independently with a personalized learning software program.

PRO: Students work at their own pace
One of the greatest strengths of individualized instruction is that it gives students the opportunity to work at different paces and on different areas without affecting the learning of their peers. Gifted students may work ahead while students who are struggling in a particular area can take the time they need to review and master a concept they may have previously not fully understood. Best of all? This can all happen in the same classroom.

To learn more about how technology can individualize instruction and personalize learning, check out this free whitepaper from DreamBox.

Nigel Green

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