What’s the Difference? Technology–Assisted Learning Buzzwords

There are so many hot terms in education these days—blended learning, personalized learning, differentiated instruction, intelligent adaptive learning—related to technologically-assisted 21st century learning. What’s the difference between them?

In short, they all describe approaches to learning and instruction that are alternatives to one-size-fits-all typical schooling models. To help sort them out, here are some definitions of instruction styles):

Blended Learning It’s about using multiple media and methods. Using multiple media and methods of instruction to teach has been around for decades, but only recently has it come to mean combining face-to-face learning with technology-based learning. Blended Learning has evolved significantly in the last 20 years, and with increasing pressure on schools to ensure that all students achieve higher standards of learning with fewer resources, it is now being used more widely around the world. Online and real-time interaction is a powerful combination that makes the most of every moment for both student and instructor.

Individualized Learning This is largely about pacing—instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds, according to their learning needs and abilities. For example, students might take longer to progress through a given topic, skip topics that cover information they already know, or repeat topics they need more help on.

Differentiated Instruction As Tomlinson and Imbeau describe, differentiation involves “the modification of four curriculum-related elements – content, process, product, and affect – which are based on three categories of student need and variance – readiness, interest, and learning profile” (Tomlinson & Imbeau, p. 15). Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to student readiness and the preferences of each student.

Personalized Learning Another approach to learning and instruction, personalized learning is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.  Therefore personalization encompasses the aspects of both differentiation and individualization.

Adaptive Learning When software adapts content to the knowledge level of the learner to create a more personalized learning experience, is adaptive. This is a buzzword used by many products, but programs "adapt" in different ways. In most adaptive learning software, the progression is linear and lessons are repeated until the next level is achieved. Also, the only adaptive part is actually the assessment, meaning students simply get harder or easier problems based on how they solved the prior problem.

Intelligent Adaptive Learning (IAL) personalizes and blends learning by putting students at the center of learning.  IAL uses digital learning experiences that immerse students in modular learning environments, where every decision a student makes is captured, considered in the context of sound learning theory, and then used to guide the student’s next learning experiences.  IAL adjusts the student’s path and pace within and between lessons, and provide formative and summative data to the student’s teacher.

Only DreamBox Learning has the Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ Engine.  It enables truly formative assessment to improve teacher and elementary math student performance. It’s the ideal platform to individualize and personalize instruction.  Learn more.

Tomlinson, C.A. & Imbeau, M.B. Leading and managing a differentiated classroom. ASCD, Alexandria, VA, © 2010

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