Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests – including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn – to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.
-iNACOL: What is Personalized Learning?
A survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education defines a personalized learning plan as “a formalized process that involves students setting learning goals based on personal, academic and career interests with the close support of school personnel or other individuals that can include teachers, school counselors, and parents.” Creating such plans is an important goal of many schools and districts today – but with limited time, money, and resources, it’s often difficult to know where to start.
Before we look at how to implement personalized learning – let’s define some of the fundamental terms used today when discussing the customization of learning in classrooms.
- Differentiation is considered a general structure around which teachers work to provide group-based instruction, often defined by assessment data of some sort. Differentiation usually occurs as a next step after whole-class teaching in which most learners receive the same instruction and activities.
- Individualized instruction is often a next step for educators. This method uses smaller groups and students are assigned work more aligned to assessment-based strategies. Perhaps most challenging is the notion of personalized learning, which brings learning not only to the individual level, but to a depth that allows for even more choice and voice in what students learn.
- Personalized learning tends to be more student driven, with a continuous and integrated cycle of assessment. In a personalized learning classroom, there are more opportunities for students to select, access and build resources. In addition, there is a deeper integration of personal technology preferences, and a move toward more student agency.
Now that we have a baseline understanding of what personalized learning is (and isn’t), let’s look at how you can begin laying the groundwork for more personalized learning.
- Dig into the data
Data comes in many shapes and forms, so districts must think beyond just academic performance and standardized testing data. Looking at things like student interests, backgrounds, experiences, and prior successes will help you build a more complete learner profile. While conceptual misunderstandings are certainly a crucial base on which to build instruction, student interests and experiences influence learner growth, as well.
- Build a learner profile
Using your diverse dataset, paint a learning profile of a student. Getting into the habit of creating and examining more comprehensive learner profiles helps paint a richer picture of a student. Having structured time to check in, making updates, and looking at progress and changes are responsibilities not only of the teacher, but the parent, student, and school leadership staff, as well.
- Get the students involved
Ask the question, “to what extent are we teaching and enabling students to manage their learning?” The first of the ISTE Standard for Students states that “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.” As we help students build learner profiles, and look at data, we must teach students how to access, view, and make use of data dashboards. If you have graphs and charts in your Learning Management System (LMS), might you show students how to access them? If that is not an option, do you have a way to regularly share that information with learners and their parents, so they can gauge their own progress? Agency grows with students, and with the number and quality of experiences they are afforded to practice more self-directed learning.
- Elevate student advocacy and voice
Advocacy may be very new to some schools – at least as far as individual student advocacy goes. For years, schools have had student councils which work to provide a voice for students, but there is also a need for student voice directly in the classroom as it relates to self-guidance. Can you explore strategies that formally help students recognize their own needs and provide them appropriate opportunities and avenues for expressing their needs? Create multiple avenues for your students to express their needs, preferences, and personal learning interests – for example, some students may wish to use video to express themselves, while others prefer journaling.
- Consider your digital learning environment
Robust, flexible, and always-improving technology-based learning environments are crucial to personalized learning. A solid learning management structure is critical for helping teachers accomplish all they need to do in a day. There is much to be documented, housed, organized, and retrieved when it comes to modern classrooms. Knowing that they have a reliable, easy-to-use LMS is only one piece of the foundation. Teachers must be provided professional development around best practices, updates in capabilities, and opportunities for exploration and collaboration. In order to enrich the student’s learning experience, these systems must provide ample opportunities for the design of personalized learning programs, the management of resultant data, and anytime/anywhere access for both teacher and learner. Letting the technology do some of the work for the teacher makes the path to personalized learning smoother and easier.
Interested in going deeper on the topic of personalized learning? Check out my recent webinar.