Simple Strategies to Help Teachers and Students Get Started with Personalized Learning
According to the Glossary of Educational Reform, personalized learning 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. While this can be quite a mouthful, the central idea behind personalized learning is to make individual learning needs the primary consideration in important educational and instructional decisions, rather than what might be preferred, more convenient, or logistically easier.
While the concept of personalized learning is more generally applied to student learning, it is important that these beneficial concepts are also applied to educator learning; there are many different student learning styles, so why are educators all expected to learn in the same way?
Below are three strategies for students and three strategies for teachers to personalize learning. Of course, there are many different ways to personalize learning, but these are a few easy ways to get started.
Personalizing learning for students
Give a prompt or objective and let students choose the way it is completed.
Students may choose to teach a lesson, give a short speech, or create a PowerPoint presentation, flow chart, Prezi, or blog post. When students work in ways that are familiar and beneficial to them, they forget that they’re actually working. For some students, being allowed to choose the medium through which their work is showcased can be extremely motivating; instead of merely completing a straightforward assignment, students can feel they have a stake in how they are learning and how they want to showcase their growth.
Create a list of several topics and let your students choose.
Perhaps your class is writing persuasive essays. One option is to let kids pick from a list of topics or choose their own topic and get it approved. When students have the chance to choose a topic about which they are passionate, they become much more engaged in the material. If your class is writing persuasive essays, it doesn’t matter if the topic is “Why the Red Sox are the best baseball team” or “Why pineapple is a great pizza topping.” As long as the core elements of the lessons are addressed, everyone wins.
Have a standard assignment, then ask students to apply the concept to at least two other academic areas or situations.
This strategy allows you to evaluate and measure a common assignment while giving students the chance to research and connect concepts across curricula. Since everything we do in the real world is connected, it is important to also reinforce this sense of connectedness among the various subject areas that students encounter. This strategy promotes advanced thinking skills that bring inquiry and passion to the forefront of student learning.
Personalizing learning for teachers
According to the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, if schools want teachers to allow students the opportunity to personalize their learning experiences, they should afford teachers those same opportunities. In fact, some teachers and schools are beginning to combine tools to create their own personalized professional development. In an EdSurge news piece titled "A Path Towards Personalized PD," author Christina Quattrocchi wrote, “Some might choose a combination of Twitter, video libraries of best practice, and a social network for badging. For others, a path to personalized professional development (PD) might involve in-person coaching and online courses, combined with video feedback tools.”
There are many options from which to choose, but if you are on the newer side of personalized learning, here are four easy things teachers can do to get started:
Take an online course.
There are many affordable—and sometimes free—online courses available to educators today. For example, Kahn Academy is a personalized learning resource for all ages that offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace, in and outside of the classroom. Additionally, there’s Class Central, a free online course aggregator featuring classes from universities like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard offered via Coursera, Udacity, edX, and others. You don’t have to wait for your next professional development course or seminar. Instead, you can use resources like these to personalize your learning in the ways that work best for you.
Find a great personal learning network (PLN).
The acronym “PLN” stands for “personal learning network” and it has its origins in connectivism theory (Siemens, G. & Downes, S., 2005). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people with whom a learner interacts and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. Often, the best way to learn is to glean insight from others in your profession to see where they have succeeded and failed. The members of your PLN have the potential to open your mind to new ideas, and the more senior participants can serve as an experienced sounding board as you’re trying to develop your own career.
Go to conferences and “unconferences.”
There are a variety of wonderful education conferences across the United States, covering subjects like educational technology, Title 1, reading instruction, etc. The problem is that not every educator can afford to attend them. If you find yourself in this position, consider attending an Edcamp, a form of “unconference” designed specifically for teachers and their needs. Unlike traditional conferences with schedules set months in advance by the people in charge, Edcamp has an agenda that's created by the participants at the start of the event. Edcamps are free, open to everyone, and are reliant on the "rule of two feet” that empowers everyone to find sessions that meet their needs.
The key to transformation lies in developing and supporting teachers as learners and leaders. After all, the very qualities, skills, and characteristics that we seek to nurture and develop in our students should also be nurtured and developed in teachers. Creatively structuring time for professional development—including job-embedded learning—and focusing on leadership opportunities for teachers are essential if we are to transform our educational system (Mead et al., 2015).
Personalized learning is powerful, but remember: The most important part of personalizing learning is finding the best way learning works for you.
Featured White Paper:
Read this white paper by Dr. Elizabeth R. Kazakoff to learn about well-researched methods of supporting students’ intrinsic motivation and how to apply that research to selecting and using educational technology.