Race to the Top has brought the idea of personalized learning to the forefront of American education reform, and has district administrators and teachers on the front lines of instruction thinking about how this approach to education could benefit students.
While the concept seems rather broad, in a nutshell personalized learning is a means by which the pace and approach of instruction is adjusted for each individual student, depending upon academic ability and interests.
Classroom models of the past were pretty straightforward: Instruction was essential one-size fits all, with teachers using common learning models for all students and being limited to teaching one group of students at a time. But things are changing. Education advocates argue that each child has different strengths and weaknesses, and there is no such things as the “average” student. If that’s the case, how can schools change their technique to give all students an equal chance of being successful? The personalized learning approach has four clear benefits:
1. Students take charge
Personalized learning differs from individualized learning in one very important way: Students take charge of their education. In order for a personalized approach to education to be successful, students need to take an active role in their schooling based upon their interests. The goal is to give students a choice in what they learn, and how and where they learn it, thereby sparking critical thinking. While students still need to meet the academic goals laid out by the state, personalized learning gives them more control over the process.
2. Multiple pathways to comprehension
Because all students have different academic strengths and weaknesses, they will not all face the same obstacles to comprehension of new concepts. While some are visual learners, others do better with an auditory approach. Some students may excel at mathematics, but struggle when it comes to writing research papers. Learning isn’t linear, and personalized learning offers students many different pathways toward fully understanding and applying new material. This means that just because a student doesn’t respond well to the traditional approach to education doesn’t mean he or she can’t be successful.
3. Increasing motivation
Because personalized learning empowers students to make choices about their education, it has the residual effect of increasing their motivation. When students have a say in their learning process, they are able to gain 21st century skills and knowledge that will help them professionally in the future. Knowing what they are learning in school will have a directly positive outcome on their real lives can help them stay motivated and focused in class.
4. More flexibility for teachers
Instead of forcing educators to somehow teach one large group of students with different learning abilities all at once, personalized learning enables them to take a more flexible approach to instruction. With this method, teachers strategically guide instruction, design a supportive learning environment and spend time working with small groups of students based on their interests and abilities.