On a broad level, personalized learning is instruction focused on the what, how, when, and where students learn, and tailored to the student’s individual needs, skills, and interests.¹ Personalized learning instruction can be taught on an individual or small group level. The concept is to meet students where they are, motivate learning based on student interest, and prepare students to be lifelong learners. Teachers are empowered to better tailor instruction to specific student needs. As with any instructional methodology, strong implementation is the key.
In, “Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects,” one of the researchers’ key findings was that schools where personalized learning was implemented did not look as radically different from traditional schools as theory might predict.²
A key concern with personalized learning, though, is that proponents will misuse it to replace teachers or to change the role of teachers from educators to facilitators. Additionally, there is concern regarding feasibility in classrooms with a large number of students. However, research has shown that “student achievement is tied to a teacher’s capacity to carry the content to them personally through active instruction” (Brophy, 2006). Results such as this show that personalized learning tools are best used as supplements to teacher instruction.³ Anecdotes from teachers themselves reveal the value of using personalized learning systems in conjunction with holistic teaching practices.
There are also concerns with the influence of corporate and private interests on personalized learning through the technology industry. For example, the 2015 Education Plan of British Columbia utilized personalized learning as a key element. This included indirect input from OECD, Learning Frontiers, Cisco Systems Inc., Pearson Education, Promethean Ltd. The Ellen Koshland Family Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Global Education Leaders’ Partnership and BC Ministry of Education. The British Columbia Teachers Federation is concerned that the plan increases reliance on corporate educational technology and publishing companies. In contrast, some scholars maintain that personalized learning addresses socio-economic and educational realities of the 21st century. 4
¹ Childress, S. & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized Learning for Every Student Every Day. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 95, No. 8, 33-38.
² Pane, J.F., Steiner, E., Baird, M., Hamilton, L., Pane, J.D. (2017). Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2042.html
³ Bulger, M. (2016). Personalized Learning: The Conversations We’re Not Having. https://datasociety.net/pubs/ecl/PersonalizedLearning_primer_2016.pdf
4 Childress, S. & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized Learning for Every Student Every Day. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 95, No. 8, 33-38.