Schools and educators often refer to offering a personalised approach to learning but what does the term ‘personalised learning’ actually mean?
“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.”
I quite like this definition, taken from the ‘Glossary of Education Reform’ [ http://edglossary.org/personalized-learning/] as a starting point for any discussion about what personalised learning is and what it isn’t.
Generally speaking personalised learning is a conscious attempt to move learning away from the ‘one size fits all’ model, where all learners are given the same learning opportunities and tasks in the same environment at the same time in the same way. This is often convenient and manageable but not always the most productive method of facilitating the learning experience. It assumes that learning needs are somehow generic and there are times when they may well be, but a more personalised approach opens up the opportunities for learners to display mastery of key concepts and skills in ways that are personal to them because they choose the context and therefore the experience ultimately means more to the learner.
That is not to say that the traditional approach is not valid in certain situations but rather that it is not the only method or approach available.
Personalised learning is often used synonymously with the concept of student centred learning where individual learning needs are given the primary consideration in important educational and instructional decisions.
What personalised learning isn’t is a free for all, where learners are given complete freedom to do what they want, when they want and how they want with no structure or guidance. This is the picture personalised learners detractors sometimes like to paint but nothing could be further from the truth.
The diagram above, taken from Beaufort Primary School in the UK, provides a good visual representation of what personalised learning actually looks like.
Beaufort define personalised learning as a process that,
‘means that each and every child gets the exact experience that they need to progress.’
For me personalised learning is about identifying what learning experiences an individual learner needs or would benefit from in order to progress. Sometimes these needs will be generic and can be delivered in a large group situation but at other times they are best experienced in small group or individual environments.
The key is identifying strengths and working with them as much as it is about identifying ways of remedying weaknesses. It is about learners identifying their personal ‘drivers’ and allowing them to build learning opportunities around these areas.
Having identified what skills need to be developed it is about providing the appropriate framework to facilitate progress. It is about choosing and being flexible regarding groupings, teaching strategies, assessments, organisation, targets etc. in order to best meet the needs of the individual learner. It is about giving opportunities for meaningful choice [where appropriate] to enable and empower the learner.
As I have said this does not mean that every learner is on their own path all of the time. At times they may well be, at other times their paths will have generic elements, but it is about a degree of flexibility between these approaches.
In many ways I see a development from the ‘one size fits all’ approach through to differentiated learning, where the learner has choices within a framework provided by the teacher [for example a class reading a set novel may have a series of choices on how they respond to the themes of the novel based on individual preference and in some cases teacher direction according to identified learner needs] through to a more personalised approach.
Personalised learning takes differentiation a step further by identifying learner needs first and then providing a learning context to meet those needs.