Personalized learning seems to be one of the key buzzwords in today’s educational lexicon. Just as ubiquitous access and engaged learning had their time in the limelight, “personalized learning” seems to be what many school leaders are looking for today. What does it mean? According to the Glossary of Educational Reform personalized learning refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. It I the opposite of “one size fits all learning” where all students work through the same materials and take the same assessments.
Many commercial software products tout the ability to personalize learning. In most cases by reviewing student performance data and then using a variety of analytics to modify the content provided to any given student. However, the individualization is usually only partial as the student’s interests are not necessarily being considered, only their individual performance. Many virtual schools present themselves as being exceptionally good at providing personalized learning. Personalized learning must go beyond simply adjusting the instructional modalities used and embrace the need to engage the interests of the individual learner as well.
Some examples of personalized learning include Khan Academy, the Loudon (VA) Public Schools which uses #LoundonPL to identify personalized learning initiatives, the Lindsay (CA) Unified School District, and the Winnetka Public Schools where Carleton Washburne, the superintendent from 1919 to 1943, developed the Winnetka Plan, which provided an individualized learning plan for each child.
The Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) is trying to identify the most effective methods for the future of education; personalization being one facet of their work. There is no doubt personalized learning will continue to expand over the next few years, the key will be how schools embrace all facets of their learners when making decisions about individualization. —Steve Baule, Educational Leadership Professor at the University of Wisconsin – Superior