5 Things You Need to Know about Personalized Learning

August 1, 2014

Personalized learning
Universal Design for Learning
Diversity equity inclusion

1. Personalized learning is a 21st century form of differentiation, refreshed with technology.

Personalized learning isn’t the individualized programmed instruction of the 70s or the grouping of the 90s, although both approaches can play a role in today’s personalized learning environments. Personalized learning is an approach to instruction where students make choices about what and how they learn while developing self-direction skills and feelings of self-efficacy. The 21st century twist is that technology makes the whole process easier and more exciting.

2. Personalized learning focuses on academic standards.

Personalized learning doesn’t mean that students just learn whatever appeals to them. They still have to demonstrate that they have met academic standards, but they don’t all have to learn or demonstrate their learning in the same way. Personalized instruction finds spaces within the required content for students to make choices, pursue their own interests and talents, and address areas where they are struggling.

3. Students are already personalizing their own learning.

As educators well know, today’s digital natives live technology-enabled lives. It’s only natural that they are using technology for learning. On their own, they use social networks to collaborate on school projects, get homework help on the Internet, create projects with mobile apps, and find tutorials to help them catch up or move ahead with content and technology skills. As is often the case, how students are encouraged to use technology in the classroom lags behind the ways they use it in their lives. Students expect to be able to learn on the go, any time, and anywhere. But they need the direction that teachers can give them to get the most value out of their digital experiences. Personalized learning accomplishes that goal.

4. Personalized learning is not a curriculum or a program, but a way of thinking about teaching and learning that can transform classrooms.

Personalized learning is not a prescriptive how-to method for students or teachers. Technology integration models such as blended, flipped, online, and mobile learning, all incorporate aspects of personalized learning in the way that they use Internet connectivity and mobile devices to meet the individual needs of students. Personalized learning can be successful, however, even in a classroom with just one computer or with once-a-week access to a computer lab. The key to personalization is the design of learning experiences that place the student, rather than the teacher, at the center of the learning process.

5. It takes more than hardware and infrastructure to create a personalized learning environment.

You knew that already, didn’t you? Certainly, students need access to technology, preferably one device for each child. And, of course, they need Internet connectivity, both at school and at home. That is the easy part of personalizing learning, although probably not the cheapest. For personalized instruction to work, teachers need to understand their content and their students deeply enough to see the different ways that they can employ technology to acquire understanding and demonstrate their learning.