What is Personalized Learning?

When you hear the words “personalized learning” what do you think about?  Stop and really take a moment to think about this before you continue reading.  I believe it is important for us to have many conversations around this topic.  We must challenge and support each other through these imperative changes in education if we are going to get it right for all of our children.  After reading this please leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.

To me, personalized learning means giving students what they need, when they need it.  It means allowing students to progress through learnings at their personal pace.  And… it requires us to feed every learner’s passions and interests to motivate them and help them see the purpose of learning.  To create such a learning environment we will need to give all learners a voice and give them a choice in their learning.

Many educators have transformed their classrooms to create a more personalized environment.  The following are some of the strategies that have been used: adaptive learning, blended learning, differentiated instruction, the flipped classroom, 1:1 learning, project based learning, individual learning plans, and learning labs.  In my opinion, I do not believe that any of these are truly personalized learning if they stand alone.  I do, however, agree that each is a more personalized environment and is an improvement from the traditional classroom.  Below I will explain my reasoning.

Adaptive learning is a great start towards a personalized learning environment.  With adaptive learning it is important that every student have access to some form of technology.  Today’s technology has allowed programmers to create programs that adapt to fit each and every learner’s needs in every moment by responding in a way that supports the learner based on their previous responses to questions.  If a learner has forgotten a specific learning target, the program will take them back and re-teach that learning.  If a learner has mastered a learning target the program will move them on quicker.  The problem with adaptive learning is that it doesn’t work with every subject and many people believe it does not support higher order thinking.  How does a computer program support the learning of debates and arguments?  This is an essential learning for all of our students to master.  How does this program support the student that needs more face-to-face interaction with a facilitator of learning?  How does this program give each learner a voice and choice in their learning?

Blended learning is a step up from adaptive learning.  With blended learning students could be engaged in an adaptive learning program, but also pulled away from the computer at times to receive more direct instruction from the instructor with a small group of similar ability peers.  Students are getting to move at their personal pace and receive the instruction the computer program or instructor feel they need at the time.  However, the learner has no voice in how they learn.  The computer and/or instructor decide how the learner learns with little to no input from the learner.

Differentiated instruction is a strategy the teachers use to change assignments to meet the students’ needs.  Assignments can be manipulated by the teacher to become easier or harder depending on the needs of the student and their ability level.  The issue with this is that the teacher more often than not, makes the decisions with no input by the student.  The assignments more than likely do not meet each student’s interests because the student is never given a voice or choice in the assignment.

The flipped classroom is a new big buzzword.  In a flipped classroom students are viewing the instruction in the comfort of their own home for their “homework” and then engaging in the problem-solving phase of instruction in the classroom.  This allows the instructor to support each student at the time they are working on their assignments in a more individualized manner.  However, students still are not given a voice or choice in their learning in most instances.  They are many times permitted to move at their own pace and view instruction at different rates and times, but are required to do the same assignments no matter what their interests are.

1:1 learning is occurring all over the world at an increasing rate.  In a 1:1 environment every learner has access to some form of computer at all times.  This computer can be used in the classroom for students to send and receive assignments, research on the web, use applications that support their learning, or work on an adaptive learning program to support their learning.  All of this is better than the traditional classroom with no technology.  I believe that a 1:1 learning environment is essential for personalized learning to occur, however without teachers giving students a voice and a choice in their learning, the 1:1 learning environment still does not rise to the same level as personalized learning I would like to see.

Project based learning is an environment that requires learners to research and work on a project that answers a driving question.  In this environment learners are given a voice and choice in their project and once approved by the instructor the student is released to begin working on it.  Several conferences with the learner may occur throughout the completion of the project to support the learner and insure that they are progressing in a way that will meet the requirements of the learning.  The issue I find with this environment is that there are many students who will need more concrete practice and instruction to meet their learning targets and to retain the learning.  What supports does this learning environment give to these students?

Individual Learning Plans are designed for each student to keep track of what each student’s interests and needs are, so that educators can better tailor the learning environment to meet each child’s needs.  It is not the same as an Individual Education Plan, which has been designed to support only those students with a learning disability.  Every student has the opportunity to have an Individual Learning Plan, and every student and parent has a voice and some choice in the development of their Individual Learning Plan.  In order for a personalized learning environment to exist every student would need an Individual Learning Plan.  However, just having a plan would not be enough to create a truly personalized environment.  Learners, parents, and teachers would all need to continue to work together with the assistance of technology to find the best path for each learner to achieve success.

Learning labs have been created to give learners an environment that supports more hands on activities and encourage students to problem solve and find solutions to real world problems.  These labs have potential to becoming a Personalized Learning environment, but fall short without the student voice and choice in their projects and without a more personalized environment to support the learning of concrete skills needed to solve specific problems.

I believe that Personalized Learning can only be achieved through the use of all of the above.  All students’ roles should change to learners and teachers’ roles should change to facilitators of learning.  Through the help of a 1:1 learning environment we can adapt and blend the learning to meet each of our student’s needs.  We can then also flip our classroom so that students are receiving the instruction when and where they want to.  Through Individual Learning Plans and the support of technology to adapt the learning we can also differentiate our instruction and assignments to meet the needs and interests of our learners.  We can also allow students to have a voice and choice in their projects through project based learning and learning labs to allow them and support them in solving real world problems that they are passionate about themselves.

How do we create the best personalized learning environment that supports students’ learning by tapping into their interests and passions and unleashes the full potential of every child?

  1. #1 by Greg Green on March 29, 2015 - 10:30 am

    Great blog post and I absolutely agree it’s is all of it and we need a tool that allows all of us to do it. Like I said, it’s around the corner. Really like your thoughts and your breakdown.

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