Personalized learning, or individualized instruction, is one of the hottest topics in education today. In today’s digital world, jobs require strong problem-solving skills, creative and critical thinking, and teamwork. And the traditional, one-size-fits-all teaching model based on lectures and memorization isn’t cutting it. As schools and districts face increasing pressure to improve achievement and career readiness, more and more are examining ways to individualize instruction to improve the learning experience and better meet students’ unique learning needs, abilities, and interests.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is also playing a role in districts’ shift to personalized learning. As you can see from the map below, nearly every state has at least a few districts with personalized learning initiatives. In Florida, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Maryland, the majority of districts are using at least some personalized learning. Under ESSA, states rather than the federal government, set their own standards for academic success and are responsible for implementing strategies to help their students meet those standards. A personalized learning approach has shown great promise in being able to help more students excel academically, socially and behaviorally.
However, few schools are currently equipped to individualize the learning experience for all students. Educators need help making this shift and selecting the best tools to support these new teaching methods. This creates an opportunity for education vendors. Many schools are embracing personalized instruction, yet many lack the tools, training, and resources to effectively tailor instruction to students’ individual needs. Companies can get ahead of the curve and help support a differentiated framework by ensuring their products support personalized learning.
Even though the framework is fairly new, initial research on personalized learning methods suggests promising results. For example, a recent RAND study found that personalized learning contributes to an increase of up to three percentile points in math scores. Most agree more research is needed on the effectiveness of personalized learning, and some remain skeptical of whether schools will be able to adopt this shift systematically. Yet many experts predict schools will continue moving away from traditional “factory-based” education models and will increase differentiation to better meet students’ learning needs.
The main characteristics of personalized learning include:
Product Dev Tip: Goal-setting, self-assessments and evaluations, cooperative learning, and feedback loops with teachers all empower students to engage in their learning and take responsibility
Product Dev Tip: Products that provide opportunities for students to choose their own tasks (ex. write a paper or create a presentation), topics (ex. polar bears, penguins, or seals) or learning style (ex. watch a video or read a passage) put students in the driver’s seat and increase interest in what’s being taught.
Product Dev Tip: Be sure your product gives students the time they need to master the skill or subject-matter and progress at their own pace. Lesson plans should include differentiated options to accommodate students who may not have mastered all of the previous content and those who are working ahead.
Product Dev Tip: Products that support personalized learning must include a way for educators to easily see when and where students are struggling in real-time so they can intervene and get students back on track.
Product Dev Tip: When possible, products should be accessible out of school. For example, if the product is technology-based, it should be compatible on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices and not limited to use on school networks.
Companies looking to support personalized learning should be mindful of how their products support these features. Additionally, it’s important to keep the schools’ needs in mind. There are many areas where schools are struggling to incorporate differentiated learning, and addressing one or more can help educators solve a pain point. Some of the top areas schools are looking for support include: making personalized learning scalable, effective and flexible use of technology, professional development, and flexible implementation.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of personalized learning is implementing it at scale. At first look, the notion of facilitating individualized learning for all students can seem daunting. But a closer look shows that personalized learning centers on strong teacher and student collaboration. When students and teachers work together to create a meaningful plan for their learning, this is where the tools of our digital age can facilitate differentiation in a wide-scale and systematic way.
Make scalability a priority. Work with schools and districts to create a clear definition of what outcomes the school or district is hoping to achieve with both personalized learning and your products. Offering product pilots can be an effective way to gain trust and demonstrate effectiveness. Target schools with strong interest and aptitude, and they will act as model sites for the rest of the district.
Be sure to keep schools’ technology needs and systems in mind. Technology products need to fit into school technology systems and work seamlessly with other providers. Schools will require a solid data infrastructure with strong Internet connectivity. Educators will depend on these systems to adjust their instructional models, place students in appropriate groups, and gain access to many types of information in real-time.
While we all know that technology is important, companies should keep in mind that while technology can serve and support personalized learning, it doesn’t define it. Be careful to keep the overall goals of personalized learning in mind and use technological features to enhance and support these ends.
Adequate training is essential for the success of any program. This is especially true with personalized learning products because many educators may be reluctant to shift their teaching strategies. The shift to personalized learning will require changing roles. Teachers will need support in developing facilitator skills, and school and district leaders will need to learn ways to support educators, communicate changes, and direct resources to support individualized instruction.
Become a resource for educators by adapting professional development to support innovative models. Help them align training to reflect and support their goals. Recognize educators’ shifting roles and provide training that gives them the information, skills, and tools they will need to feel supported during implementation.
Keep the user experience in mind when developing your product. Personalized learning marks a pretty significant shift from traditional teaching strategies, and educators might need time to get used to the change. Consider ways schools can gradually implement your product to meet their readiness needs. Schools will be much more receptive to products that are flexible to gradual implementation so staff can get used to the change.
Students today are entering the classroom with very different starting points and learning needs. More and more schools are turning to personalized learning to better meet students’ unique needs and interests. Education vendors are well-positioned to help schools and districts make this transition by ensuring products are compatible and support personalized learning platforms.