Personalized Learning

One element of Ed Reform 2.0, or Future Ready Schools, is Personalized Learning. A number of documents about Personalized Learning (PL) will be featured on this page with some information from each. As you read through the information, even if you do not read the full text of the documents, you likely will notice some common threads about PL.  On the surface, Personalized Learning will sound great to a large number of people.  Under that surface, there are serious issues that can not be overcome but likely will be smoothed over with enormous public relation promotions.  Isn’t it true that if they say it often enough it must be true?

Big data demands, adaptive learning software use, the move to mobile device use, and embedded assessments all come into play with Personalized Learning, requiring and relying heavily on technology.  Anytime student data is captured online, as these features of PL do, there is always the possibility of student privacy being compromised.

Personalize Learning, as often presented, is student centered, calls for project-based learning. and is competency-based learning.  To many, project-based learning’s effectiveness is questionable and controversial.  Competency-based learning requires a well defined set of standards.  The standards called for are either the Common Core State Standards or the same referred to as college-and-career-ready standards.  Many elements of PL call for the role of teachers to change.

There is no indication parents want or have requested Personalized Learning as a way to meet the educational needs of their students. Not only does it appear parents have not asked for PL, they don’t seem to be asked for input or even included in discussions about it.

Is Personalize Learning a major reform measure being imposed on an education system that has not asked for it from the ground level and is not ready for it?  Like other imposed reform measures, PL will require massive funding and an incredible amount of professional development.

Technology’s Role in Personalized Learning mentions, as do many other documents, Center+for+Digital+Education+-+Personalized+Learning+Webinar+2015adaptive learning software and game-based learning/gamification as technology used in PL.  This document presents the following three PL goals, ten models/methods, and three challenges.

Personalized Learning Goals

  • Increased student engagement
  • Greater student retention
  • Improved student attendance

Personalized Learning Models/Methods

  • Formative assessments
  • Response to intervention
  • Project-based learning
  • Online learning
  • Mobile devices
  • Competency-based learning
  • Blended learning
  • Adaptive learning
  • Student created learning paths
  • Universal Design for Learning

Challenges to Providing a Personalized Learning Environment

  • Adopting a Personalized Learning Culture
  • Funding
  • Lack of Professional Development

Would it be surprising to see more funds allocated to spread the implementation of Personalized Learning? Would you expect to see an increase in professional development related to PL?

Innovate to Educate: System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning
CSD6181A Report From The 2010 Symposium
is a report from an invitation only symposium of education leaders. Of the hundred and fifty or so symposium attendees, only one is listed as a teacher.

The report provides fives Essential Elements, five Policy Enablers, a definition of Personalized Instruction, Five Tools of Personalization, and the Next Steps to take as voted on by attendees. These are all presented below. Four models of programs in place are presented as “illustrative examples” of personalized learning. No evidence of effectiveness is provided for any of the models.

The report says, “Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology.

Essential Elements

  • Flexible, Anytime/Everywhere Learning
  • Redefine Teacher Role and Expand “Teacher”
  • Project-Based and Authentic Learning
  • Student Driven Learning Path
  • Mastery/Competency-Based Progression/Pace

Policy Enablers

  • Redefine Use of Time (Carnegie Unit/Calendar)
  • Performance-Based, Time-Flexible Assessment
  • Equity in Access to Technology Infrastructure
  • Funding Models that Incentivize Completion
  • P-20 Continuum and Non-grade Band System

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs [i.e. individualized], tailored to learning preferences [i.e. differentiated], 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.” The document indicates this definition comes from From Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology.

Five Tools of Personalization

  • Assessment
  • Data
  • Curriculum
  • Technology
  • Educator Support

Next Steps as voted by symposium attendees

  • Expand research and development aimed at studying redesign for personalization models and practices, and sharing what works and the road map for getting there (92%)

  • Support public-private partnerships to advance key technologies, including common metadata and technical standards needed to enable the interoperability of various applications, data, and content resources to form a more seamless, integrated learning platform (89%)

  • Form a policy action network to identify and implement state and district policies that support personalized learning, including changes to seat time or Carnegie units (88%)

  • Develop a shared understanding of the vision, definitions, and effective communication of personalized learning to help inform education stakeholders (83%)

 Software & Information Industry Association. (2010, November). Innovate to Educate: System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning; A Report from the 2010 Symposium. In collaboration with ASCD and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington, DC. Author: Mary Ann Wolf.

The Core Four of Personalized Learning: The Elements You Need to Succeed presents Education_Elements_Core_Four_White_PaperFour Core Elements of Personalized Learning and the definitions of Personalized Learning from four different organizations.

The Four Core Elements of Personalized Learning

  • Integrated Digital Content—Digital content allows for a differentiated path and pace
  • Targeted Instruction—Instruction aligns to specific student needs and learning goals
  • Data Driven Decisions—Frequent data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings
  • Student Reflection and Ownership—Ongoing student reflection promotes ownership of learning


Definitions for Personalized Learning

  • iNACOL: Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery at the highest standards possible.
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: Personalized learning allows all children to receive a customized learning experience. Students learn at their own pace with structure and support in challenging areas. Learning aligns with interests, needs and skills, and takes place in an engaging environment where students gain a better understanding of their strengths.
  • ISTE: [Personalized] learning that is tailored to the preferences and interests of various learners, as well as instruction that is paced to a student’s unique needs.
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Personalized learning has four key attributes: learner profiles, personal learning paths, competency-based progression, and flexible learning environments.

“Significant time and training will be necessary to properly incorporate all of the Core Four elements in a meaningful way.”

Gates-ContinuedProgress-Nov13Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning

funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation lists three things practitioners look for and five strategies.

For Personalized Learning, practitioners look for the following three things:

  • systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to each student’s individual needs, skills, and interests;
  • a variety of rich learning experiences that collectively prepare students for success in the college
and career of their choice; and
  • teachers’ integral role
in student learning: designing and managing the learning environment, leading instruction, and providing students with expert guidance and support to help them take increasing ownership of their learning.

Five Identified Strategies

  • Learner Profiles
  • Personal Learning Paths
  • Competency-Based Progression
  • Flexible Learning Environments
  • Emphasis on College and Career Readiness


teacher-conditionsThe Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers presents five elements that Personalized Learning includes:

  • Instruction is aligned to rigorous college- and career-ready standards and the social and emotional skills students 
need to be successful in college and career.
  • Instruction is customized, allowing each student to design learning experiences aligned to his or her interests.
  • The pace of instruction is varied based on individual student needs, allowing students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery.
  • Educators use data from formative assessments and student feedback in real-time to differentiate instruction and provide robust supports and interventions so that every student remains on track to graduation.
  • Students and parents have access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so they understand what is expected for mastery and advancement.

mean-what-you-say-1Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency
addresses Personalized Learning, Blended Learning, and Competency Education. Blended Learning and Competency Education support Personalized Learning and will be addressed on other pages in the future. Presented here from the report are a definition of Personalized Learning and ten essential components of personalization. In addition, essential attributes of a personalize learning model are listed, as identified by Scott Benson, Program Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Working Definition of Personalized Learning: Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.

The Top Ten Essential Components of Personalization

  • Student agency (student has voice and choice on level of standards/lesson and some control over how they learn)
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Immediate instructional interventions and supports for each student is on-demand, when needed
  • Flexible pacing
  • Individual student profiles (personalized learning plan)
  • Deeper learning and problem solving to develop meaning
  • Frequent feedback from instructors and peers
  • Standards-based, world-class knowledge and skills
  • Anywhere, any time learning can occur
  • Performance-based assessments — project-based learning, portfolios, etc.

Essential Attributes for a Personalized Learning Model

  • Learner Profiles: Captures individual skills, gaps, strengths, weaknesses, interests & aspirations of each student.
  • Personal Learning Paths: Each student has learning goals & objectives. Learning experiences are diverse and matched to the individual needs of students.
  • Individual Mastery: Continually assesses student progress against clearly defined standards & goals. Students advance based on demonstrated mastery.
  • Flexible Learning Environment: Multiple instructional delivery approaches that continuously optimize available resources in support of student learning.

This is the beginning of a journey in American education, and we believe it must be built on strong, internationally benchmarked standards, as represented by the Common Core State Standards.

Personalized Learning: What It Really Is and Why It Really Matters presents six steps for a successful Personalized Learning Strategy.     practices

whatitreallyisSix Steps for a Successful Personalized Learning Strategy

  • Identify the student need that is to be addressed.
  • Design the pedagogical structure.
  • Pick the products or technologies.
  • Don’t forget faculty training.
  • Don’t forget technology support.
  • Be prepared to measure, fail, and iterate.


9 Responses to Personalized Learning

  1. Pingback: Personalized Learning | The Underground Parent

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  4. Pingback: What Is Personalized Learning? | Truth in American Education

  5. Dr. E. Thompson says:

    As a professional educator who has worked with the Personalized Learning concept for a number of years this article reflects an overall summary of PL. While PL is not at the forefront of many school districts as an option for curriculum development, it does offer some advantages for the student and teacher. I am delighted to see the interest sparked with PL and look forward to the integration as part of the mainstream for student learning.

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