Distinguishing Features Of Personalized Learning


In the preceding blog post, I provided an overview of personalized learning. Now, delving further into the concept, let’s explore the distinctive features that set personalized learning apart from standardized learning.

Distinguishing Features Of Personalized Learning:

Standardized Learning:

  • Uniform content and approach for every student.
  • Content follows a fixed sequence.
  • Class grades, not individual readiness, determine the learning pace.
  • Learning is assessed at the end of a concept or subject.

Personalized Learning:

  • Varied ways of engaging with content based on individual interests.
  • Flexibility in the flow of content aligned with competencies.
  • Students progress at different speeds.
  • Ongoing assessment to monitor progress and readiness for the next concept.
  • Learning is assessed when the student is prepared to demonstrate mastery, not just at the end of a course.

Learning and performance objectives guide the content and approach in a personalized learning system. Each competency is associated with clear transferable learning objectives aligned with crucial content and cognitive strategies necessary for mastering the subject matter.

What Personalized Learning Does Not Encompass:

  1. Isolation: Personalized learning does not entail solitary learning with students glued to their computers. It occurs in a classroom setting, fostering collaboration and engagement among peers.
  2. Blended Learning Distinction: While blended learning is encouraged within personalized learning, the latter thrives in a dynamic environment where students actively participate and collaborate in each other’s growth.
  3. Memorization and Forgetfulness: Personalized learning goes beyond rote memorization and subsequent forgetting. It revolves around achieving mastery, which necessitates more than quick assessments. Students learn to apply acquired knowledge and skills to tackle real-world complex problems effectively.
  4. Mere Initiative: Personalized learning is not just another educational initiative; it signifies a paradigm shift that places the learner at the center. It values the unique capabilities of each student and employs various approaches to reinforce individualized education, empowering students to master subjects or concepts. It transforms students into active participants in their educational journey.

Approaching Personalized Learning:

  1. Tailored Learning Activities: Learning activities and instructional methods are selected based on individual student learning needs, interests, and strengths.
  2. Optimizing Learning Experiences: Personalized learning aims at facilitating mastery of subjects, concepts, or skills by tailoring experiences to each student’s unique requirements.
  3. Continuous Reassessment: Regularly revisiting, reexamining, and reevaluating individual progress ensures that every student receives the necessary support and guidance.
  4. Scaffolding And Support: Personalized learning involves providing scaffolding and support at every stage to help students achieve or attain proficiency.
  5. Formative Assessment: Formative assessments play a significant role in personalized learning, offering actionable data on individual student performance. Frequent, immediate feedback motivates students to address their weaknesses actively. Consistent feedback empowers students to take ownership of their learning needs and requirements.

Personalized learning empowers students to engage deeply with the content, enhancing their ability to apply knowledge effectively across diverse real-world contexts. This early engagement fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

In contrast to the traditional one-size-fits-all approach of education, personalized learning recognizes and leverages individual uniqueness, returning the responsibility for learning to the student. By harnessing technological advancements, personalized instruction allows students to master skills and knowledge at a pace tailored to their specific strengths and weaknesses. Simultaneously, it provides educators unparalleled insights into student achievement data, informing their daily teaching practices.

The Transition To Personal Digital Learning Offers Three Significant Advantages:

  1. Enhanced Engagement: Personalized learning increases student engagement, promoting persistence and sustained interest in learning.
  2. Tailored Content: It delivers calibrated content that aligns with each student’s learning level, accelerating their educational progress.
  3. Expanded Learning Opportunities: Personal digital learning opens access to the internet, additional devices, and an extended pool of exceptional educators and intelligent content. This expansion broadens learning horizons and opportunities.

Personalized Learning:

  • Facilitates differentiated instruction even with larger class sizes.
  • Encourages students to become self-directed and independent learners.
  • Equips teachers with real-time insights.
  • Provides administrators with real-time updates on student progress.
  • Enhances teacher effectiveness through the integration of technology.

A personalized learning system is essential for preparing children to thrive in an radically-evolving global economy. Our education approach must undergo a transformative shift. Our students deserve a forward-thinking and adaptable educational system that invests in their growth, equips them for higher education and future careers, empowers them as active participants in our democratic society, and positions them to excel globally.

A competency-based system recognizes and respects the uniqueness of each student. Instruction must be tailored to individual needs and aligned with their core competencies. This approach liberates education from rigid constraints like age and allocated hours, allowing concepts such as failure, reflection, and revision to become integral parts of the lifelong learning journey.

Grades in this system represent students’ mastery of their core skills, reflecting their expertise rather than adhering to standardized benchmarks. This approach ensures that every student’s achievements are recognized and celebrated, regardless of pre-established norms.</ br>Personalization in education encompasses instruction that caters to individual learning needs, adapts to diverse learning preferences, and aligns with the specific interests of each learner. In a fully personalized environment, learning objectives and content may vary, as well as the methods and pace of instruction.

Personalized learning endeavors to address an enduring challenge: how to tailor instruction to accommodate students of varying abilities, cater to their individual needs, leverage their strengths and address their weaknesses, all while nurturing their inherent curiosity and genuine interests.

Several Design Principles Guide Personalized Learning Related To Instruction:

  1. Student-Centered: It is designed to meet the unique learning needs of each student every day.
  2. High Expectations: Personalized learning is committed to ensuring that all students reach well-defined, rigorous standards, preparing them for success in both college and their future careers.
  3. Self-Pacing and Mastery: Based Credit: This approach empowers students to progress at their own optimal pace and receive credit when they can demonstrate mastery of the material.
  4. Blended Instruction: It optimizes a combination of teacher-led and technology-delivered instruction, with at least 25 percent of core literacy and math learning time allocated to digital content. This digital content allows students control over their learning path and pace.
  5. Student Ownership: Personalized learning equips students with the skills, information, and tools they need to manage their learning.

Leading research organizations have developed a comprehensive definition of personalized learning consisting of four key elements:

  1. Learner Profiles: Students maintain an up-to-date record of their strengths, needs, motivations, and goals.
  2. Personal Learning Paths: While all students are held to high expectations, each follows a customized path that adjusts based on their learning progress, motivations, and goals.
  3. Competency-Based Progression: Students’ progress towards well-defined goals is continuously assessed, and they advance and earn credit as they demonstrate mastery.
  4. Flexible Learning Environments: The learning environment is designed to respond and adapt to student needs, including staffing plans, space utilization, and time allocation, all geared towards supporting students in achieving their goals.

It’s worth noting that personalized learning comes in various models and strategies, leading to public confusion due to its wide array of variations. On the other hand, competency-based education involves students advancing upon mastery, determined by assessing explicit, measurable competencies over time. Teachers employ ongoing, authentic assessments to track students’ positions on their learning paths and guide curriculum and instruction. Learning becomes the yardstick for student evaluation, replacing traditional metrics like seat time or birth date.

While competency-based education is integral to personalized learning, it is more of an enabler than a synonym. For true personalization, competency-based models must offer variations in pacing and multiple pathways to college and career readiness alongside flexible learning environments that support these pathways. Students should know their position along their learning journey and the competencies they have yet to master.

The synergy between these concepts—personalized learning, competency-based education, and blended learning—is powerful. Competency-based progression is a crucial component but not sufficient for personalized learning. The combined impact of competency-based education and personalized learning is amplified when integrated with blended learning.

When technology is added to the mix, this equation leads to cost-effective, efficient, and scalable personalized learning, extending its potential benefits to a broader spectrum of students, particularly those with the most to gain. A compelling argument supporting the effectiveness of personalization can be drawn from empirical evidence demonstrating that one-on-one tutoring leads to learning gains that are as much as two standard deviations higher than those achieved through traditional classroom instruction (Bloom 1984).

This success in tutoring can be viewed as a testament to the efficacy of personalized education, characterized by:

  1. Student modeling, which involves assessing various specific learner characteristics using direct measures like task responses or indirect measures such as analyzing clicking behavior in digital environments, and (2) the subsequent adaptation of instruction. It is important to note that the advantages of personalization extend beyond digital environments. In conventional classroom settings, evidence points to increased learning gains through personalized instruction spanning various backgrounds and subjects.
  2. By considering the dynamics within each individual, personalized instruction can be tailored to a specific learner and that learner at a particular time. To achieve this, we explore three different environments where personalized education has been studied: laboratory research, digital learning environments, and traditional classroom settings. Across all three domains, a common theme emerges—dynamic assessment and subsequent data-driven adaptations of instruction and support are critical to effective personalization.


The role of teachers within a personalized learning system undergoes a profound transformation, shifting away from being mere “deliverers of information” towards a multifaceted set of functions that prioritize placing students at the heart of the learning process. Jobs for the Future identifies six key roles that teachers play in this context:

  1. Curriculum Planner: Teachers determine what students need to learn, shaping the educational roadmap.
  2. Classroom Facilitator and Coach: Teachers structure learning experiences that empower students to explore their interests, pose questions, and uncover answers.
  3. Assessor: Teachers continuously collect evidence of learning as an ongoing, dynamic process.
  4. Advisor: Teachers ensure that students remain on track in alignment with their learning goals.
  5. Connector: Teachers forge connections between students and opportunities beyond the classroom, enabling them to extend their learning journey.
  6. Communicator: Teachers maintain transparency with students about their progress and development as learners.


Assessment is pivotal in guiding and enhancing the learning journey in a personalized learning system. This comprehensive and rigorous approach is firmly rooted in high standards and employs diverse assessments to gauge student mastery. These assessments emphasize the final result—a solution, interpretation, creation, or conclusion—and the explanation and justification underpinning that result. The incorporation of formative and summative assessments becomes an integral part of the natural learning process as students progressively assume more control over what they learn when they learn it and how they demonstrate their acquired knowledge and skills.

Assessment in the context of personalized learning takes on a crucial role. It is imperative to implement robust and diverse assessment and accountability strategies. These strategies inform students, families, school and district staff, and state officials about individual and group progress relative to the competencies outlined. These strategies encompass:

  • Multiple Assessments: A comprehensive set of assessments that gauge progress toward competency, including performance tasks that demand the application of knowledge and skills, as determined at the district, school, and classroom levels.
  • Accountability Policies: Shifting from labeling schools based solely on standardized test scores to emphasizing improvement based on student growth toward clearly defined competencies.

In a personalized learning system, time becomes a flexible resource that adapts to the nature of the challenge and students’ skill levels. This flexibility enables every student to receive customized support and accelerated opportunities within and outside the traditional school environment to ensure readiness for college and careers.

Reevaluation of what constitutes “learning” becomes imperative in this context. Blended learning approaches are prioritized to support student mastery of competencies, focusing on what is most meaningful and practical for students, educators, families, and communities. The shift towards anywhere/anytime learning underscores the quality and depth of learning experiences, whether in physical classrooms, online spaces, or community settings, which are more critical than allocating minutes to specific classes.

This Shift Opens Doors To Various Possibilities, Including:

  • Personalized Learning Formats: Where individuals or small groups pursue projects or problems they are passionate about, drawing on the expertise of both in-school and out-of-school mentors.
  • Community-Based Learning: Through internships, projects, and workplace experiences that value real-world application of competencies.

This transformative approach to teaching and learning ultimately empowers students to become active agents in their education, fostering more profound engagement, individualized growth, and a stronger connection between learning and real-life experiences.

  • Formative Assessments: These assessments provide valuable insights to students and teachers regarding their performance and predefined learning targets. Their primary purpose is to enable timely instructional adjustments tailored to individual student strengths and weaknesses. Within the personalized learning framework, formative assessments are meticulously designed to unveil each student’s unique profile, allowing for creating and modifying a personalized success plan. Regular discussions between students and teachers on feedback, progress, and next steps testify to their commitment to the learning process.
  • Summative Assessments: These assessments furnish crucial information to students, their families, and educational staff regarding the level of mastery attained concerning specific competencies. Typically conducted towards the conclusion of a unit or course, summative assessments in a personalized learning system take the form of rich, performance-based tasks. These tasks challenge students to apply their learning in novel contexts, showcasing mastery, problem-solving skills, and determination. Encouraging students to have a say in the design of summative assessments enhances their self-regulation abilities, including goal-setting and progress monitoring. Importantly, grading is viewed as a collaborative effort between teachers and students, with a shared understanding of assessment criteria written in accessible language. The focus is on using this clarity to refine task development continually. Teachers provide feedback to inform task revisions, validate competency levels, and clarify readiness for state or national assessments.

In conclusion, dynamic student modeling is essential for personalized education to succeed. A student model is considered dynamic when it considers potential changes in relevant learner characteristics during the instructional process. Educators and teaching agents must know which learner characteristics are pertinent to the learning process at different timescales and how these characteristics can vary—between individuals over time and in response to interventions.

Distinguishing Features Of Personalized Learning