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Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is instruction that offers pedagogy, curriculum, and learning environments to meet the individual student’s needs. The experience is tailored to learning preferences and the specific interests of different learners. In a personalized learning environment, the learning objectives and content, as well as the method and pace, may all vary. Personalization also encompasses differentiated instruction that supports student progress based on subject matter mastery.

Personalized Learning Design Elements

Read a report and key findings from the Software& Information Industry Association about innovation and redesigning education for personalization.

Personalized learning is non-linear

The way people learn is ‘messy’ and intensely personal –research has shown that it doesn’t happen in a straight line or easy progression. Because learning isn’t linear, true personalization can’t be either. Learning is a complex, interconnected web, particularly in the early elementary grades. Students need to have the opportunity to learn concepts and construct their own knowledge and understanding in a way that honors students’ ideas. 

Read a white paper from the Center for Digital Learning that covers current and future pathways to personalized learning.

Read a brief government document that reviews brain research and how it relates to early childhood learning and personalization.

Developing a personalized learning plan

So, how can curricula be designed to do create greater efficiency and personalization at the same time? It has to be designed ‘backwards’ from the goal.  It’s important to ascertain the variety of ways that a student may arrive at an answer or understanding, how they got there, how much time it took, whether they asked for help or not, and then tailor the experience.

While one-on-one instruction between a teacher/tutor and their student is the best way to achieve a high-level of personalization, a ratio of one teacher per student can be unrealistic in today’s environment.

To solve this issue, and particularly for elementary schools to align with new standard mandates for math and language arts, many school districts have turned to the use of adaptive learning technology in blended learning environments, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

Review a presentation by Grant Wiggins about his work, Understanding by Design, and the basics of ‘backward design’  

Read some recent case studies about how districts are personalizing instruction.

A look at the personalized learning classroom environment

After assessing each student academically and understanding ‘where they are’ in their learning progress, it’s important to learn about their strengths, weaknesses and learning style. The classroom can have different areas or stations based on needs and abilities to accommodate auditory, visual, and kinesthetic style learners. For example, some stations may support inquiry-based, independent learning; while there can be a separate area for group activities. Groups can be based on content, ability and assessment results.

Social-based learning, which gives students the opportunity to collaborate with each other, is important to the new personalized learning classroom. In many cases, the classroom may not be a ‘room’ at all.

Read blog posts about personalized learning trends.

Technology and personalized learning

In a blended learning environment that leverages technology, students are not bound by their classroom walls in terms of access to information, knowledge, and experts. A digitally-rich learning environment provides students with the context and relevancy for learning that they want. Most children today are technologically fluent and make daily use of laptops and mobile devices. Learning programs that offer a rewarding gaming environment that younger and older students play with on their own time is a good way to engage learners by making their learning work feel like play.  In any case, techno-fluency is important to the development of 21st century skills to ensure a successful academic and work life.

So, the keys to personalized learning are providing access to appropriate technology, for the teacher to provide appropriate support when it’s indicated, and to give students flexibility around physical space, learning time frames, and instructional modalities.

With this new paradigm of personalized instruction, instructors have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine their roles and scale personalized education like never before. But this isn’t about educating more students with fewer teachers. This is about educating the students we already have, with the teachers we already have, more successfully.

Review case studies and results related to how personalized learning boosts achievement.