Conceptualizing Personalised Learning


Students from diverse backgrounds and experiences arrive at school daily, each with unique strengths and individualized learning needs. As an educator and administrator, I consistently gleaned invaluable insights from every classroom encounter with my students. It often surprised me how much I learned in the process. Each interaction was a profound learning experience. Some students demonstrated swift comprehension, while others required more time to grasp concepts. Some had a passion for mathematics, while others thrived in language studies. Reading abilities varied widely, with some students reading fluently by kindergarten while others struggled with essential words. The diversity extended to students’ interests and preferred learning methods.

Despite our awareness as administrators of each child’s distinctiveness and unique learning requirements, I couldn’t help but ponder why the educational system continued to resemble an industrial model, treating children as standardized components in a machine. Teachers needed help to cover the curriculum, with students progressing together through the same learning activities on predetermined timelines. Advancement to the next topic was dictated by curriculum guidelines rather than individualized learning needs or evidence of skill and concept mastery. Students grappling with a particular concept were forced to move forward, even if they weren’t ready, while those who excelled had to wait for the rest of the group before delving into new material. This mismatch between the system and the reality of student diversity begged for a more flexible and student-centered approach to education.

As educators, we are acutely aware that the traditional “industrial model” of Education falls short in addressing individual needs, lacks productivity, and has failed to catalyze significant societal change on a global scale. Over time, we have recognized the ever-evolving requirements of each student and attempted to adapt as much as possible within the constraints of the education system. However, the weight and stress of these limitations often leave us barely scratching the surface.

Regrettably, the education sector is frequently perceived as resistant to change, even as it grapples with efficiency and productivity issues. Astonishingly, it’s an area where innovation to enhance educational quality has yet to be notably absent. There’s a prevailing sense that governments are hesitant to innovate, and resistance to change is pervasive. Education appears entrenched in its conservatism, resisting transformation.

The education system is glaring at severe challenges, and these issues will have significant consequences for our country’s socioeconomic growth and the well-being of its citizens. Primarily, the education sector is grappling with efficiency and productivity problems. Despite the technological revolution, the education system still needs to fully leverage technology in pedagogy and administration. While Education has expanded considerably since the mid-20th century, it has struggled to keep pace with groundbreaking innovations in other sectors. Consequently, a glaring disparity exists between the current state of Education and what it should be.

This productivity and efficiency issue is even more pronounced compared to other sectors. For example, healthcare has greatly benefited from technology, increasing efficiency, productivity, and improved outcomes. The education sector, however, needs to catch up in this regard, raising questions about why technological advances have yet to lead to similar improvements. Educators have long aspired to individualize and customize instruction to cater to students with varying abilities, leveraging their strengths and addressing their weaknesses while nurturing their innate curiosity and interests. Yet, this has often felt like a daunting and nearly insurmountable task.

Today, teachers are increasingly harnessing the potential of games to boost student engagement and personalize learning experiences. They incorporate technology and digital content in their classrooms to support teaching and enhance student engagement. Elementary school teachers, in particular, find significant value in game-based learning, which engages students and allows for differentiation of instruction to cater to diverse learning styles and needs. Administrators also recognize the importance of digital tools in augmenting personalized learning, fostering authentic learning experiences, promoting student collaboration, and differentiating instruction. Advancements in digital technology offer a systemic approach for students to master skills and knowledge tailored to their strengths and weaknesses, providing educators with real-time insights into student achievements. Moreover, these technological advancements hold great promise for parents, offering their children a learning environment tailored to their specific needs and helping them reach their full potential.

What Should 21st-Century Education Embrace?

In the 21st century, Education must pivot towards mastery—a deep understanding and proficiency in subjects, coupled with the ability to produce, synthesize, and evaluate information drawn from diverse resources spanning various fields. This modern Education should also instill in students an appreciation for diverse cultures, recognizing that the world has become an interconnected global tapestry. In an era of round-the-clock access to information, the very nature of learning has undergone a profound transformation, and the markers of success have evolved. 21st-century education champions a “learner-driven” approach, acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all model no longer suffices. Generation Z, the learners of this age, are destined to be perpetual students, transitioning through multiple careers over their lifetimes. Education is no longer confined to the classroom, as learning extends beyond the boundaries of formal institutions. Instead, it embraces a global perspective characterized by loosely structured and highly self-directed learning activities. In this landscape, personalized instruction is critical, adapting to the evolving needs of each learner. Technology is pivotal in creating tailored content, with the individual student’s competencies and social-emotional development at its core.

This new educational paradigm also recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship, enterprise-building, effective communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Inquiry and problem-solving become essential competencies to thrive in a complex professional environment. Education must empower students with transferable skills that can be continually upgraded through ongoing learning.

The traditional confines of the workplace and job market are becoming obsolete, replaced by success defined by the ability to:

  1. Navigate challenging situations using social-emotional skills and leverage technology for complex problem-solving.
  2. Make responsible decisions and take ownership of their choices.
  3. Adapt to diverse traditions and cultures.
  4. Embrace frequent travel and global experiences.
  5. Live and work in various corners of the world.
  6. Collaborate with colleagues across the globe, often across flexible work hours.
  7. Delegate tasks to proficient individuals.
  8. Pursue earnings without artificial caps.
  9. Communicate and collaborate effectively with an “academic mindset,” ready to upgrade knowledge at any point in their lives and careers.

The potential for innovation through technology significantly hinges on the digital proficiency of the population. Unsurprisingly, a robust connection exists between Education, skills, and the adoption and application of digital technologies across different aspects of life. Education and skills play a pivotal role in driving innovation forward.
Research reveals that blended teaching approaches, which facilitate personalized learning, significantly influence individual student development and motivation. A compelling argument supporting the effectiveness of personalized instruction is rooted in evidence demonstrating that one-on-one tutoring surpasses traditional classroom teaching (as shown by Bloom in 1984).

The concept of student modeling, involving the assessment of various specific learner attributes through direct or indirect measures, followed by adapting instructional content, furnishes substantial empirical proof of the remarkable gains achieved through one-on-one tutoring or personalized instruction.

By meticulously considering the unique learning needs of each student, it becomes feasible to tailor and shift the educational approach to center around the learner, making it driven by their individual preferences.
Across all educational settings, personalization emerges as most effective when relevant learner characteristics are consistently assessed throughout the learning journey and employed systematically to adapt the instruction. Building upon these findings, we propose an innovative and dynamic personalization framework that envisions learners as evolving entities shaped by their experiences within the instructional process.

Given that these dynamics manifest at various timescales, the opportunities for adapting instruction span from establishing appropriate overarching learning objectives to responding to emotional and motivational fluctuations on a micro-scale.

Personalized learning seeks to tackle a long-standing challenge: how to customize instruction for students of diverse skill levels, cater to their requirements, leverage their strengths and weaknesses, and nurture their innate curiosity and authentic interests.

What is Personalized Learning?

Our world is undergoing rapid changes that demand greater adaptability and self-reliance from our students. Educators have long aspired to tailor instruction to individual students, but it often seemed overwhelming or unattainable. The result was educational prioritization: teachers frequently directed their efforts towards students in the middle of the performance spectrum or those closest to predefined achievement levels.

Personalized learning values the uniqueness of each learner and leverages technology to customize the learning experience. It encompasses various strategies, including project-based, competency-based, problem-based, blended, and experiential learning. However, it’s important to note that personalized learning is not solely defined by technology; instead, technology serves as a tool to enhance and support the process. Personalized learning has the transformative potential to foster educational equity and reduce student achievement gaps.

At its core, personalized learning is a student-centric approach where learning experiences are meticulously tailored to meet the specific needs of each student, fostering real-time growth. It strongly emphasizes the pace of learning, with instructional methods optimized to cater to the requirements of individual learners. Within this framework, the speed of learning, the sequence of learning objectives, instructional approaches, and content are all variables tailored to the unique needs of each student.
Throughout the learning journey, educators and students collectively assume responsibility for what and how they learn. They collaborate to customize content based on competencies, needs, and interests, utilizing an ongoing monitoring and feedback system to assess individual progress and set future learning targets.

Personalized learning challenges the one-size-fits-all paradigm of traditional Education, advocating for equity through differentiated instruction. It seeks to ensure that every child attains mastery over their skills and competencies, enabling each student to reach their inherent potential.
Personalization extends beyond classroom instruction and encompasses the teacher’s relationship with students and their families. It employs various instructional modes to scaffold students’ learning and enhance their competencies. This approach flexibly adjusts the timing, location, and pace of learning for each student, involving students in creating their learning pathways and leveraging technology to manage and document the learning process while accessing rich sources of information.

As Sir Ken Robinson, a prominent advocate and author, contends, the current educational system misdiagnoses the problem by treating Education as an industrial process rather than a human one. He calls for a shift towards humanizing Education, making it personal for every student and teacher. While traditional schooling addresses general deficits, personalized learning capitalizes on individual strengths, granting learners partial responsibility and empowering them to drive their knowledge.

Personalized learning is learner-focused, learner-led, and demonstrated by the learner’s connection to career-relevant, real-world skills and opportunities. The aim is for all learning experiences, regardless of setting or context, to align with these guiding principles. The curation process evaluates how well each tool aligns with and amplifies these principles.

In the next blog we will discuss the distinguishing features of Standardized Learning, Personalized Learning and approach to Personalized Learning.

Conceptualizing Personalised Learning