Implementing Personalized Learning in U.S. Schools

Nov 20 2022

Personalized Learning, Professional Learning

Educational innovators are beginning to explore the concept of personalized learning as a way to reimagine and redesign the United States education system. However, there is currently a lack of research surrounding this approach to teaching and learning. This study seeks to “offer strategic guidance for designers of personalized learning programs to consider while the evidence base is catching up.”

Historical efforts made to personalize learning

Many of the strategies that personalized learning leverages are not new. As the author of this study (John F. Pane) states, “There is a long history of educators striving to meet students’ individual needs and incorporating their interests and preferences into instruction. These efforts include developing individualized education plans for students with special needs, using data to help make instructional decisions for individual students, providing instruction to individual students or small groups of students, providing tutors or support teachers to supplement the classroom teacher’s instruction, and offering diverse elective courses.” In addition, technology has afforded teachers more time to work with individuals or small groups, due to a reduction in complex monitoring systems, largely supporting a personalized learning approach. 

When determining the rollout of personalized learning it is important to consider the possible challenges to implementation. The fact that educators may need to spend valuable time and effort assembling the necessary supporting materials and making them work together as well as navigate potential conflicts with current state or district policies were both cited as challenges to consider. 

Despite these challenges, existing evidence suggests that enthusiasm around personalized learning exists, and Pane suggests that providing guidelines for adoption can be helpful for those who are interested in trialing the approach. Such guidelines include: embracing evidence-based strategies, focusing on time spent with students, leveraging teachers’ skill-sets, using rigorous learning materials (ie. educational software), monitoring implementation, and being prepared to adapt.

More research needed to fine-tune personalized learning

Pane summarizes evidence collected by a team of RAND Corporation researchers who surveyed 32 schools using personalized learning. Considering this data, they identified challenges to implementation and then offered some potential design guidelines for interested educators in addition to outlining the application of these principles in a way that fosters skill development for students. Pane explains that personalized learning holds promise for K-12 educators in the United States as we begin to embrace more customized educational experiences for our students. 

However, it is important to acknowledge that “because personalized learning is composed of so many interrelated strategies, considerable additional research will be needed to sort out the fine details of which strategies, and in which combinations, are most effective for which students.”

Effective strategies needed for teachers

Overall, the study suggests that further research needs to be done on effective personalized learning strategies prior to a major rollout in school districts. Due to the individualized nature of personalized learning, it is important that teachers are provided with effective strategies as a means to reduce the amount of failed implementations and “put it on a path toward meeting its full potential as a major reform of the K–12 education system.”

Notable Quotes: 

“The goal of personalized learning is to make each student’s educational experience

responsive to his or her talents, interests, and needs.”

“Teachers are the next-most-valuable resources available to students when their skills are properly focused on providing instruction and related support to students. Successful personalized learning strategies or models likely will be designed to conserve teachers’ time and effort for activities that are most directly helpful to students.”

“States, school districts, and school leaders who want to allow mastery-based approaches to play out over multiple years will need to rethink how systems of standards, assessments, and

accountability operate. This might require a shift away from age- or grade-based targets of attainment toward systems that focus on growth in achievement.”

Personal Takeaway: 

Personalized learning is at the core of my classroom as a learning support teacher. Allowing students to create their own learning goals strongly aligns with personalized learning and, in my experience, adopting personalized learning strategies often leads to positive learning outcomes, stronger student-teacher relationships, and increased student engagement. However, in order to be successful, personalized learning requires a level of experimentation and a willingness to be flexible. For those of you who are interested in trying out more personalized learning opportunities in your classes, know that it’s okay if things get a little messy, it is all part of the learning process!—Taryn McBrayne

Pane, J. F. (2018). Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning While Evidence and Resources Are Underdeveloped. RAND Corporation.

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