If you are connected to K-12 education in any way then you have become aware of the term “personalized learning.” In fact as part of our recent New Learning Experience launch, Blackboard now offers a Personalized Learning solution that brings personalized, competency-based learning and over 100,000 open educational resources to educator’s fingertips.

Like many others, we believe personalized learning is more than just a trend. Nor is it necessarily new. Curriculum Directors cite the “ability to support differentiated or personalized learning” as the most important factor when evaluating digital instructional materials.[1]

Despite a large desire for personalized learning (see this survey by Project Tomorrow for related stats) few are truly doing it today. In a recent survey of 3,100 teachers, only 31% reported teaching in a “non-traditional environment.”[2] A “non-traditional” environment was defined as: “my students work on different content at different paces, depending on their level.” Notice that technology was completely omitted from that definition. Interestingly, the same study revealed that non-traditional learning, when it does happen, happens more often at younger age levels. See these 2nd graders going blended as an example.

There are still many open questions. Various stakeholders in the industry from educators to thought-leaders, vendors to policy-makers are currently engaged in a collective discussion on the following:

  • Pedagogical definition: How far do you go to “personalize” learning? Is it complete student agency of what and when? Is it about increasing student engagement in any amount? How do we personalize and engage students on the “hard” stuff? How do the roles of the teacher and the student change?
  • The role of assessments: How should we assess students? Should we place less emphasis on seat time and grade level and focus our collective energies on demonstrated proficiency and learning progress? Is there a bigger role for formative assessments? How do we get higher ed on board?
  • The role of authentic learning: Related to the topic of increasing student engagement is the idea that students are more excited about learning when the concepts are placed in a real-world context. Students have a personalized experience when they choose a project that is meaningful to them. Since these projects take on a form that is different than a traditional assignment, authentic learning has certain implications for capturing and assessing learning.

The one common thread in most perspectives is that personalized learning puts the individual learner at the center, with their interests, abilities and goals at the heart of the educational experience. Personalized learning is a classroom philosophy, a process, that exceptional teachers have been doing long before the Internet or the PC.

You have probably noticed that we intentionally did not describe personalized learning as any one application or collection of technologies. We are not the only ones out there saying this of course, but we would like to add our voice to the chorus. We see our role, as Blackboard, as first and foremost a partner for schools and districts. We help by providing best-of-breed products, services, integrations and 3rd party partnerships that support school and districts needs. Those needs might be to implement personalized learning, improve community engagement or enhance safety and security. It is no coincidence that as part of our New Learning Experience approach we have given our solutions names that match the problems that school leaders are trying to solve.

At Blackboard, we are humbled and excited to be part of the evolution of scaling personalized learning and bringing those benefits to more learners. See more of what we’re up to here and check-out our original launch blog post.

[1] Table A2.28, “Important Factors Influencing Purchasing Decisions of Digital Instructional Materials: All Districts.” State of the K-12 Market 2015: Educational Materials. (Part II). Market Data Retrieval. Link.

[2] “Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Barriers.” Teachers Know Best Survey 2015. http://www.teachersknowbest.org/survey-results/9. Last accessed: 3/7/2016.


This post was written by Geshri Gunasekera, who leads K-12 strategy at Blackboard. Geshri stays on top of all the exciting developments in K-12 from new pedagogical approaches in the classroom to who’s getting funded to what’s happening on Capitol Hill so that Blackboard can best serve its customers. 

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