Truly Personalized Learning

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I am sure we have all heard schools say, we ‘Personalize’ learning, but what does this really mean, and do all schools mean the same thing when they use the phrase?  The short answer, of course, is no.

Many schools may use the term, but how many actually do it?  So, let’s be clear, Personalized learning does not mean a student can choose History instead of Geography, or Art instead of Drama. Equally, it does not mean that a teacher has two different worksheets for students to use, depending on the perceived ‘ability’ of a student.
 
It helps to think of three different approaches; Differentiated, Individualised and Personalized learning. The chart below, based on the work of Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, provides a good visualisation of these different approaches. 
 
Personalized
Differentiated
Individualized
Starts with the learner 
Starts with groups of learners 
Starts with the needs of the individual learner 
Connects with interests, passions, and aspirations 
Adjusts to learning needs of groups of learners 
Accommodates learning needs of the individual 
Learners actively participate in the design of their learning 
Explicit instruction based upon the learning needs of groups of learners 
Explicit instruction based upon the learning needs of an individual learner 
Learners have a voice and choice on what they learn 
Teachers create or adapt instruction based on different needs of learners 
Teachers customize lessons and tasks for learners based on individual needs 
Different objectives for each learner 
Same objectives for groups of learners 
Same objectives for learners with specific objectives for individuals who receive one- on-one support 
Learner selects appropriate technology and resources to support their learning 
Technology and resources are selected to support the learning needs of groups of learner 
Technology and resources are selected to support the learning needs of an individual learner 
Learners build a network of peers, teachers, and others to guide and support their learning 
Learners are reliant on the guidance of teachers to support their learning 
Learners are dependent on individual teachers or para- professionals to support their learning 
assessment AS learning 
assessment FOR learning 
assessment OF learning 
Teachers develop capacity to create independent learners who set goals, monitor progress, and reflect on learning 
Assessment involves time- based testing and teachers provide feedback to advance learning 
Summative assessment is grade-based and involves time- based testing which confirms what learners know and don’t know 
In Individualized and Differentiated, the teacher is in control of the learning. The assumption is that the teacher has something (often knowledge) and they need to impart it to the student. The role of the teacher is an Instructor and this is sometimes referred to as Instructivist education. It’s the type of education I had when I was a student. 
 
In the Personalized model, the assumption is that the learner already has what they need, or they are capable of discovering it for themselves. The role of the teacher here is to help the student make new meaning, or to co-construct learning with the student. This is often referred to as Constructivist learning. 
 
Every time you tell a child something you deprive them of the joy of discovering it for themselves.
John Dewey
 
Great teachers understand that there is a time and place for each of these approaches, but that the most powerful learning comes when it is truly Personalized. 
 
Andrew Derry
November 2019