Modern classrooms are teeming with students of varying interests, backgrounds, abilities, and learning needs. To engage these students, learning must be every bit as diverse. But what do people mean, exactly, when they talk about personalized learning? Like many terms thrown around in education these days, the exact meaning can depend on the person or context. Take the terms differentiated, individualized, and personalized.
Differentiated learning. Differentiation is a type of learning where instruction is tailored to meet the learning needs, preferences, and goals of individual students. The overarching academic goals for groups of students are the same, yet the teacher can use whatever resources and approaches they see fit to connect with a student or use practices that have proven successful for similar students.
Individualized learning. Instruction calibrated to meet the unique pace of various students is known as individualized learning. So if differentiation is the “how,” then individualization is the “when.” The academic goals, in this case, are the same for the same group of students, but students can progress through the curriculum at different speeds, based on their own particular learning needs.
Personalized learning. Unlike individualized instruction, personalized learning involves the student in the creation of learning activities, leveraging more heavily on a student’s personal interests and innate curiosity. Instead of education being something that happens to the learner, it is something that occurs as a result of what the student is doing, with the intent of creating engaged students who have truly learned how to learn.
Apart from confusing terms, there are many myths surrounding personalized learning. Here are five of the top myths along with the facts to help set the record straight.
Myth #1. Personalized learning is a radical new concept.
Is personalized learning new? In many ways, not really. Creative teachers have always offered students choices and encouraged them to develop their own interests and talents while providing support in areas that need more work. Personalization, however, goes beyond just providing options to students to giving them more control, making self-expression and self-management important learning goals. The 21st century twist is that technology makes the whole process easier and more exciting.
Myth #2. Personalized learning doesn’t focus on academic standards.
Personalized learning doesn’t mean that students just learn whatever appeals to them. They still have to demonstrate that they have met academic standards, but they don’t all have to learn or demonstrate their learning in the same way. Personalized instruction finds spaces within the required content for students to make choices, pursue their own interests and talents, and address areas where they are struggling.
Myth #3. Students will have to make a big shift when personalizing their learning.
On their own, students use social networks to collaborate on school projects, get homework help on the Internet, create projects with mobile apps, and find tutorials to help them move ahead with certain skills. But they need the direction that teachers can give them to get the most value out of their digital experiences.
Myth #4. Personalized learning is just a curriculum or program.
Personalized learning is not a prescriptive how-to method for students or teachers. Learning models such as blended, flipped, online, and mobile learning, all incorporate aspects of personalized learning in the way that they use technology to meet the individual needs of students. The key to personalization is the design of learning experiences that place the student, rather than the teacher, at the center of the learning process.
Myth #5. All it takes is hardware and infrastructure to create a personalized learning environment.
For personalized instruction to work, teachers need to understand their content and their students deeply enough to see the different ways that they can employ technology to acquire understanding and demonstrate their learning.
This prospect of individual learning paths can, quite understandably, fill many of today’s more traditional educators with dismay. But the entire classroom must feel valued and take responsibility for learning, gaining knowledge and freely sharing it with others. This allows teachers to address skill deficits and provide opportunities for deeper exploration and more immediate feedback.
Helping All Students to Thrive
In student-centered classrooms, students meet core standards as they use various methods at different paces, based on individual educational needs, strengths, and interests. In this way, students learn how to learn on their own unique terms.
Sure, personalized learning requires more forward planning on the teacher’s part, but it gives students the most important thing of all: true ownership of their education. And this ownership will continue to open doors for them throughout their lives.
Have you tried to personalize learning in your class or school? If so, how? What technology did you use (if any)? Join the conversation and reply to the discussion below.