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Arkansas State University

Personalize Learning for Students

The world is becoming increasingly personalized. Algorithms suggest movies, music and TV programs we would like based on our personal tastes and search history. Subscription services deliver boxes of clothing tailored to our personal styles, and fast-food apps remember your favorite orders. Yet, when it comes to something as significant as education, most schools still take a one-size-fits-all approach.

A standardized curriculum and rigid testing benchmarks mean teachers have little flexibility to adjust lessons to meet individual students’ needs. Students are often left behind because they do not connect with those lessons, and educators are recognizing the benefits more personal learning plans might have on student success.

Personalized learning, as defined by Temple University’s Center on Innovations in Learning, is “a curriculum that has been crafted to provide students with individualized learning opportunities.” It prioritizes the needs and abilities of each student to create a tailored curriculum. However, this is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still developing ways personalized learning is best deployed and what strategies are most beneficial.

Some of the strategies, principles and practices for personalized learning recommended by experts may be better suited to in-person classroom settings, while others work well with the flexibility of remote learning. Thoughtful educators will adapt their personalized learning strategies to serve the type of instruction at their particular school.

Here are four suggestions to assist teachers interested in this personalized approach to learning:

  1. Ask Students to Set Goals

Goal setting, appropriate for both in-person and remote settings, is considered one of the foundations of personalized learning. It asks students to set their own goals, rather than relying on external metrics and benchmarks. Plus, it has the potential to motivate students to work toward priorities that are meaningful to them. Promoting self-set goals also acknowledges the unique pace at which students work and reach milestones.

Educators can also give students greater control over other choices through their school days. Would they like to read a short text passage, or listen to it read aloud? Would they like to solve a math problem with a partner, or on their own? Granting students a limited measure of autonomy gives them a sense of empowerment and lets them assume a position in the driver’s seat.

  1. Prioritize Feedback

Responding to students’ work is critical to keeping them focused and on track. To be most effective, that feedback should be specific, immediate and frequent so students will understand what work or behaviors prompted a particular comment.

Some feedback is easier to give in a traditional classroom: Teachers can observe a student struggling with a specific task or step in when a student appears to be distracted from a lesson. However, other feedback is easier to give during remote-learning. For example, some computer games or lessons will immediately notify a student if their answer is right or wrong, rather than requiring them to wait for a teacher to grade individual work samples by hand.

  1. Take Advantage of Educational Technology

Whether school takes place remotely or in-person, education technology can be an important tool for personalized learning. Each tablet or computer effectively becomes a student’s personal learning aid; each can present information to a student in the way most effective for them. For some, this could be digital animations. For others, it could be audio or written information. Educational technology can also facilitate immediate and customized feedback.

Of course, student access to home broadband internet and personal computers will vary depending on the location and demographics of a student body. If educational technology is to benefit all students fairly, lawmakers and school districts must ensure equal access.

  1. Build in Periodic Formative Assessment

Periodic formative assessment is not testing, but it does allow a teacher to regularly check on a student’s progress in meeting learning goals. With the information gathered, the teacher has the tools to assess what skills a student is mastering — or struggling to master — and can then quickly adjust the learning plan in response.
Some educational technology or interactive, digital products do this automatically: If a student is completing all tasks correctly, the program may increase its difficulty level. Conversely, if a student is failing to complete tasks correctly, the program might decrease its difficulty level or offer new information to help the student along.

With all tools of personalized learning, the intent is to provide students with instruction and materials that fit their needs, goals and skills. Recognizing that students experience learning differently is crucial if we want to deliver an education that provides them the best chance of individual success.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s Master of Science in Education in Curriculum & Instruction online program.


Center on Innovations in Learning: Personalized Curriculum: Curation and Creation

Prodigy: 7 Personalized Learning Strategies and Examples

Tenney School: Customized Curriculum: How Personalized Learning Can Benefit Your Child

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