What would classrooms look like if we could personalize learning for every child? We may not have to wait very long to see. Today, many schools are exploring personalized learning. They’re tailoring curriculum (what students learn) and instruction (how they’re taught) to meet the needs of each student.
Personalized learning has a lot of promise for students with learning and attention issues, including those with disabilities. But there are also challenges. If learning is personal, what happens to students who progress very slowly? How can we ensure students with disabilities are held to the same expectations as their peers? Will every student who needs technology be able to get it? In the revolution of personalized learning, we must make sure students are not left behind.
“New systems of personalized learning must take into account the unique needs of students with learning and attention issues.”
The Use of Competency-Based Education Is Expanding
There are many ways to personalize learning. One notable example is competency-based education (CBE). CBE is a system in which students master specific knowledge and skills at their own pace. The use of CBE is becoming more widespread. By the end of 2013, 26 states had taken action to implement CBE in their schools. (For a deeper look, take a look at our infographic on competency-based education.)
With traditional education, students progress by completing courses over a set period of time (sometimes called “seat time”). CBE is different. Rather than measuring progress by grade level, students in CBE measure progress by achieving learning objectives (or “competencies”). Students advance only when they master a competency.
But for CBE to work well, schools need the right resources. They need teacher training. They also need the ability to support students who are progressing more slowly.
Schools Are Using Technology to Personalize Learning
In addition to CBE, some schools also personalize learning through technology. For instance, computers can now track student progress. They can also customize lessons and homework. Different students may progress through math problems at different speeds. Apps and digital tablets can deliver customized lessons to students.
However, not all schools have the technology to make personalized learning a reality. Many schools still don’t have high-speed Internet access. Many have outdated computers.
NCLD Advocates for Personalized Learning Systems That Include All Students
When implementing personalized learning, schools must take into account the unique needs of children with learning and attention issues. Here are the policies we advocate:
- High Expectations for Students With Learning and Attention Issues
Schools must set high expectations for students with learning and attention issues, even though these students may progress more slowly in some areas. To help struggling students, schools must provide resources and help. We recommend that schools use frameworks like a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) to ensure students are on track.
- Professional Development and Research
Teachers should have ongoing professional development in personalized learning and CBE. The U.S. Department of Education should fund research to know what is required to help all students succeed.
- Preventing Negative Social and Emotional Effects
For students who progress at a slower pace, there may be negative social and emotional effects. Schools must be sensitive and work to prevent these effects. Schools should also adjust the maximum age limits on high school enrollment for students who take extra time to get a diploma.
- Access to High-Speed Internet and Technology
Every school should have high-speed Internet access. Every student should have up-to-date technology to be able to participate in personalized learning.
- Enforcement of Special Education Law
New systems of personalized learning like CBE shouldn’t replace special education law. Schools must continue to evaluate and identify children with disabilities who need special education. They must continue to provide Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to these students. Schools must be mindful that they need to provide services in the least restrictive environment possible. Systems of personalized learning shouldn’t be allowed to segregate students who are progressing more slowly.