A Deeper Understanding of Personalized Learning

Hey Coach,

I’ve heard a lot about personalized learning, but what is it? Is personalized learning just another educational initiative?

Not Another One

Dear Not Another One,

If you have been in education for more than a minute you’ve seen half a dozen educational initiatives come and go, so your question isn’t without merit. I want to give you a straightforward answer, but it gets a little tricky.

If you haven’t already, check out the Personalized Learning white paper by Dr. Anissa Lokey-Vega and Stephanee Stephens. It explains personalized learning and breaks down the essential conditions for a personalized learning environment. Also important to note, as the authors do, the white paper is subject to iteration as research and experiences inform pedagogy and the vision of personalized learning becomes refined.

Personalized learning has some core tenets that set it apart from the traditional educational model. You can see an overview of these tenets on our Essential Conditions of Personalized Learning infographic. The backbone of personalized learning is “Prioritized Executive Functioning” (PEF). PEF is the self-regulatory skills and cognitive processes that all learners need to in order to develop learner agency. Skills involved in this process include soft skills, social emotional skills, and essential skills as well as learning metacognitive strategies. Think of PEF skills as the foundation for personalized learning. PEF is not an “initiative”; these skills are necessary for 21st century learning and college and career readiness.

Co-planning between learners and educators as well as an emphasis on student agency are hallmarks of personalized learning. Learners’ differences are valued with the end goal of supporting all learners through their individual strengths and interests. In addition, other factors such as individual path, flexible content, and authentic and adaptive assessments are utilized to create a unique and meaningful personalized learning experience.

Additionally, integral to personalized learning is the use of technology as a way to collect data through authentic and adaptive assessment, communicate content to learners, and provide resources for learners’ voice. Technology will greatly benefit personalized learning; however, the focus is on pedagogy. While Montessori schools have been personalizing learning for decades without tech, most teachers will benefit from technology to collect and analyze data and provide direct instruction even when a teacher is not available. Technology allows educators to work smarter not harder.

The paradigm of education is slowly changing; educators, policy makers, and higher education institutions understand that the traditional learning model of everyone being on the same page at the same time is antiquated. The use of technology to support learners and provide teachers with easy access to learners’ individual data gets better every year. For these reasons, the concept of personalized learning will not go by the wayside, even though the term “personalized learning” will most likely go through some transformations. But don’t be fooled! While the name may change, the concept will not. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?

Yours truly,

Contributing Coach Ana Hale


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