To get an idea of what personalized learning is, try to picture a classroom that doesn’t have a “one size fits all” approach to education. The focus is on teaching to each student’s individual strengths, skills and needs. Students learn at their own pace and according to their unique interests.
That classroom isn’t the reality for most students. But it’s the end goal of the personalized learning approach to education that’s gaining attention. Personalized learning is already being used successfully in some schools. Here’s what you need to know.
What Personalized Learning Is
Kids learn in different ways and at different paces. Personalized learning is a teaching model based on that premise. Each student gets a “learning plan” based on how he learns, what he knows, and what his skills and interests are. It’s the opposite of the “one size fits all” approach used in most schools.
With personalized learning, students are an integral part of the learning process. They work with their teachers to set both short-term and long-term goals, and they take ownership of their own learning.
Personalized learning is an approach to general education. It doesn’t replace an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 plan, response to intervention or other specialized intervention programs. Instead, this approach works with these programs to individualize student learning.
How Personalized Learning Works
No two schools using personalized learning will look exactly the same. But there are four widely used models schools follow. Here’s what that can look like:
Schools that use learner profiles. This type of school keeps an up-to-date record of each student’s strengths, needs, motivations and goals. These learner profiles help teachers understand their students. It also helps them make decisions to positively impact student learning.
Learner profiles also help a student keep track of his own progress. It gives both teacher and learner a way to know if they need to change the approach to learning or make changes to goals—before the student does poorly or fails.
Schools that use personalized learning paths. This type of school continues to hold every student to high expectations. But how students reach those expectations varies. Students often have a choice in their learning, and they have multiple options to complete a task.
Every student has his own clearly defined path. For instance, a student might do project-based learning in one subject and computer-based learning in another. The path can adapt depending on his needs.
A personalized learning path allows a student to work at his own pace in each area. That doesn’t mean he’s unsupervised, however. Teachers guide and closely monitor each student.
Schools that use competency-based progression. This type of school continually assesses students to monitor their progress toward reaching specific goals. This allows a student to move forward and get credit as he shows he’s able to do what he set out to do. That leaves more time to focus on work that is more difficult for him.
The student might be working on several competencies (or skills) at the same time. When he masters one, he moves on to the next. The student gets the support or services he needs to help master the skills. The emphasis isn’t on taking a test and getting a passing or failing grade. Instead, it’s about continuous learning and having many chances to show knowledge.
Schools using flexible learning environments. This type of school adapts the environment students learn in, based on how they learn best. That includes things like the physical setup of the class, how the teachers are allocated and how the school day is structured.
The Potential of Personalized Learning
Personalized learning isn’t widely used in schools yet. Many aspects still need to be explored. But this approach has the potential to help reduce the stigma of special education and better meet the needs of kids with learning and attention issues.
IEPs can often be focused on deficits. Learner profiles can balance that by focusing on students’ strengths and interests. Having both gives kids the supports to work on weaknesses and individualized instruction to build on strengths.
Personalized learning can also give students the chance to build self-advocacy skills. It encourages them to speak up about what interests them. It also allows them to be an equal partner in their learning experience.
The decision to start using personalized learning is up to each school district. But the more you know, the more involved you can be in the conversation. See how one charter school is using personalized learning for kids with learning and attention issues.