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As you read, consider the question that Christina poses: Is it learning if it's not personal?

After you read through the blog, continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Blog originally posted on Teach. Learn. Grow. on October 20, 2016

By Christina Hunter


Personalized Learning. What images or thoughts surface when you read those words? When I heard “personalized learning,” my thoughts went to Derek, a long-ago student. A few years after having the honor of teaching and learning with Derek, I received a postcard from him in Hawaii. I had forgotten that he had chosen to study rock during one of our units until I read his postcard. The action of sending the postcard and his recollection of his study suggested to me that the learning was personal for him. He wrote,


“Hey Mrs. Hunter! I saw igneous rock! I saw magma! Did you know there are different kinds of volcanic rock?”


Of course, as a teacher, my thoughts go to what else might I have done to support Derek. Was he ready to learn about the different kind of volcanic rock when he was with me? Naturally, the NWEA voice in my head says, “If only I had the MAP assessment at that time…”


So what does personalized learning mean? According to The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership, “The term personalized learning, or personalization, refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.” It has come to the forefront of education with the backing of foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, EDUCAUSE, and the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). In Personalized Learning: What It Really Is and Why It Really Matters, the authors suggest, “The semantics of the title set us up for yet another ‘war on definitions.’”


Linking thoughts about what I know and read about effective teaching, the goal of personalized learning, and Derek, I continued on my quest for clarity. I did a bit more research and quite a few more Google searches. According to “Personalized Learning: A Working Definition,” in EdWeek (published 10/22/14), there is a four-part working definition of the attributes of personalized learning:


  • Competency Based Progression (Continuous assessment against clearly defined goals)
  • Flexible Learning Environments (A learning environment driven by student needs)
  • Personal Learning Paths (learning path based on progress, motivations and goals)
  • Learning Profile (individual strengths/needs, motivations and goals)


Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill suggest that we think about personalized learning as a practice rather than a product. In addition, they state, “Technology then becomes an enabler for increasing meaningful personal contact.” They call out three main technology-enabled strategies for lowering classroom barriers to one-on-one teacher/student (and student/student) interactions.


  1. Moving content broadcast out of the classroom (flipping the classroom; sharing lectures through recordings assigned as homework).
  2. Turning homework time into contact time (utilizing digital products to make visible student thinking/work and trends in student work).
  3. Providing tutoring (using adaptive learning software to support students in areas of need that don’t require a human instructor).


In the Glossary of Education Reform, the Great Schools Partnership reminds us that “…personalized learning, as it is typically designed and implemented in K-12 public schools, can differ significantly from the forms of ‘personalized learning’ being offered and promoted by virtual schools and online learning programs.” I admit to taking a deep cleansing breath after reading that, and smiling when I found “Through the Student’s Eyes.” It stated that “although this more comprehensive approach to personalized learning may be facilitated by technology, its tenets may be applied without technology or, more likely, in a blended context.” I was quite pleased with the clear delineation of personalized learning and products that may help to facilitate it!  recalled the suggestion of Feldstein and Hill as fitting: “Think about personalized learning as a practice rather than a product.” Teaching is indeed a Practice! The practice of effective teaching encompasses curriculum, assessment, and technology. Knowing where a student is in his or her learning before setting off on a learning journey is essential.


I went back to thoughts of Derek. We did indeed have continuous assessment. We were practicing formative assessment minute-to-minute and checking progress daily. Derek had clearly defined goals based on his individual learning needs. We used pre-assessments to determine where Derek was in his learning, and then Derek, my teaching partner and I developed goals and worked together to develop a path to support him in reaching his goals. Our learning environment was student centric. It extended beyond our two classrooms into the halls, media center, and school yard. Although we didn’t have one-to-one computers, we did have a few that students used for research and the development of products.  Did we practice personalized learning? We practiced the art of teaching, which requires personalization.


While I started with the question, “What is personalized learning?” I end with the question, “Is it learning, if it’s not personal?”


To learn more about formative assessment, check out our formative assessment PD offering or our previous post on four key formative assessment practices that form the foundation of successful implementation.


About the Author

96.thumbnail.jpgIn nearly 20 years of education, Christina Hunter has kept one thing front and center: a passion for student success. She has worked across all levels from primary grades to college, with a continued focus on doing what's best for children and their families. She is a dedicated professional who receives the ultimate joy in watching students and educators not only discover their individual strengths and areas for growth, but also take action on their discoveries. With a background in assessment literacy, differentiated instruction, IB, project based learning and data-driven decision making, her experiences have provided the opportunity to consult, coach, present, and facilitate in schools, districts, and conferences across the country and internationally. Currently, as the Senior Manager for Professional Development at NWEA, she is honored to support the work of more than 50 consultants.

As you read, consider the following question:

  • How are you using assessment data to personalize and differentiate learning for your students?

After you read through the blog, continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Blog originally posted on Teach. Learn. Grow. on December 15, 2015

By Jean Fleming


Personalized instruction, the practice of tailoring learning to meet each student’s strengths, needs, and interests, helps to create an environment that engages and accelerates learning for all students. I saw this first hand when I visited a Teach to One school in Brooklyn some time ago; a personalized approach to math broke down literal and figurative walls, resulting in a truly responsive educational experience.


Earlier this year, I authored a guest post at Getting Smart titled – The Future of Personalized Learning is Now – in which I highlighted how meaningful assessment data from the computer adaptive MAP test can be used to personalize and differentiate learning. So I was delighted to see a recent blog at Education Elements – On Storytelling with Data and the Power of Personalized Learning – where Nikki Mitchell dove deep into MAP assessment data to support my claim.


In fact, Nikki highlighted some findings from research Education Elements conducted over the 2014-2015 school year and created a compelling report – The Positive Power of Personalized Learning. Using NWEA Norms from the MAP assessment results, they provided some powerful insights:


Personalized learning impacts student achievement on nationally normed tests (MAP): students in personalized learning classrooms showed 135 percent growth in their reading exam and 119 percent growth in math.


As Nikki put it in her post:


Students’ growth over the course of the school year, compared to national norms, was the same level of progress you would expect if they received an extra third of a year of instruction in reading, and an extra fifth of a year of instruction in math.


These are some powerful arguments for introducing personalized learning and the meaningful assessment in MAP helps make that case. MAP data helps to define individual student learning paths and is directly actionable in a few important ways, and at no added cost:


  • Identify what a student needs help with, or is ready to be challenged on, using the recently enhanced interactive Learning Continuum.
  • Use an individual student’s RIT score in math from MAP to identify standards-aligned instructional resources from Khan Academy.
  • Access the RIT to Resource portal, which is powered by Gooru and enables teachers and parents to find a wealth of standards-aligned Open Educational Resources (OERs).


No matter where your students are performing, assessment information can be a critical tool in pinpointing students’ unique needs, tailoring instruction – and thereby expanding the achievement possibilities for all your students.


About the Author


41.thumbnail.jpgJean Fleming brings over 25 years of experience in education to her role at NWEA. She began as a middle school reading teacher in the Berkeley, California public schools. There, she developed a curriculum focused on engaging students in career explorations to foster a love of reading. She served as lead instructional designer for an online reading curriculum, held senior editorial positions with Technology & Learning magazine and, and managed global communications for the Intel Foundation’s professional development program.