Personalized learning

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Personalized learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments by learners or for learners in order to meet their different learning needs and aspirations. Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.


Personalised learning has been defined with different accents by different authors. They are here summarized in a chronological list.

Parkhurst and the Dalton Plan (19th century): According to the Dalton Plan each student can program his or her curriculum in order to meet his or her needs, interests and abilities; to promote both independence and dependability; to enhance the student's social skills and sense of responsibility toward others.

Washburne: Selfgoverment and the Winnetka Plan (first years of ‘900): The plan attempted to expand educational focus to creative activities and emotional and social development, using a program of a type that later became known as "programmed instruction".

Claparède in “L’école sur mesure” (1920) states that the schoolchild should have the opportunity to freely choose a series of activities, already predisposed by the teacher, to improve intellectual, social and moral growth and develop personality fully. (Claparède E., L’Ècole sur mesure, Genève, Payot, 1920)

Bloom and the Mastery learning (’50s-’60s) is an instructional method that presumes all children can learn if they are provided with the appropriate learning conditions. Specifically, Mastery Learning is a method whereby students are not advanced to a subsequent learning objective until they demonstrate proficiency with the current one.

Keller within the Personalized System of Instruction (’60s) directs instruction on the base of the students’ requirements allowing them to work on course modules independently. It is an individually paced mastery oriented teaching method. The Personalized System of instruction also fits slightly with social constructivism by requiring students to work in teams of peer support with a proctor answering questions on the studied contents.

Gardner Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences states that not only do human beings have many different ways to learn and process information, but that these are independent of each other: leading to multiple "intelligences" as opposed to a general intelligence factor among correlated abilities.

Hoz The first one that coined the term "personalization" in the context of educational science is Victor Garcìa Hoz, in 1970. His most important work in this context is “Personalized Education” published in 1981.

Kilpatrik and the Project Method (early 21st Century) is child-centred, is problem solving oriented, and the teacher direction is minimized. The teacher acts more as a facilitator encouraging self decision and self-control of the learner, more than delivering knowledge and information.

Historically, the term was used in a 2004 speech in Britain by David Miliband, Minister of State for School Standards for the United Kingdom, who, in a chapter later published in an anthology on the topic, stated that “personalised learning is the way in which our best schools tailor education to ensure that every pupil achieves the highest standard possible. Our drive is to make these practices universal.[1] This speech was driven by a more general desire of the government of the day (Tony Blair’s Labour Party) to reorganize the way services were delivered. Blair worried that public institutions and government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the public and sought to develop new strategies to create greater confidence in the public sector. Over time this reorganization has entailed moving away from the universal provision of services by government, towards a much more adaptive approach hinged on the individual citizen’s needs and actions. Parts of this reorganization have aligned with new policies emphasizing the role of markets and the private sector in addressing social needs. Estelle Morris was the first minister for education in England to enact a personalized learning agenda.

In 2005 Dan Buckley defined two ends of the personalised learning spectrum: "personalisation for the learner," in which the teacher tailors the learning, and "personalisation by the learner," in which the learner develops the skills required to tailor their own learning. This spectrum was adopted by the (2006) Microsoft’s Practical Guide to Envisioning and Transforming Education.[2]

Dr. David Hargreaves, another early key architect of the idea, referred to ‘personalizing’ learning rather than ‘personalized’ learning, in order to emphasize that it should be more of a process than a product. The former chairman of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency BECTA, Hargreaves has been instrumental in trying to claim and define this space by establishing nine gateways to personalized learning. These nine gateways were student voice; assessment for learning; learning to learn; new technologies; curriculum; advice and guidance; mentoring and coaching; workforce development; and school design and organization.[3] Charles Leadbeater is also a key architect of the notion with his work, and gave advice to Tony Blair, on the personalization of public services in the UK[4]

Dr. David Hopkins considers personalized learning to be one of the four primary pillars of systems-level reform.[5] Dr. Michael Fullan suggests that the concept is most commonly associated in the United States with differentiated instruction.[6] Personalized learning is often affiliated with the acquisition of what has been described as 21st Century Skills.


According to the National Educational Technology Plan developed by the US Department of Education, personalized learning is defined as adjusting the pace (individualization), adjusting the approach (differentiation), and connecting to the learner's interests and experiences. Personalization is broader than just individualization or differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. The rhetoric is often phrased in terms of learning 'any time, any where or any place'. This may not indicate unlimited choice, since learners will still have targets to be met. However, it may provide learners the opportunity to learn in ways that suit their individual learning styles and multiple intelligences.

Personalization is sometimes improperly used as a synonym for individualization. These are distinct terms with different pedagogical meaning. Individualization refers to the set of didactic strategies aiming to guarantee all students' mastery of the same learning objectives by adjusting the pace to the progression of the learner. The teacher (or computer) manages the best solution based on learner performance. Personalization does take into account the pace at which the learner is progressing, but also aims to valorize the entire potential of the learner, the biography, the abilities, the sensibilities and competencies (including emotional ones) that characterizes each person, in order to reach a form of cognitive excellence, by developing all aptitudes, capabilities and talents. Learning objectives then will be different for each learner, and they will cannot be foreseen at all from the beginning of the learning process. Not the kind of competences to be acquired will influence the outcomes, but the different degree of ability in the use of competences themselves. The learner, guided by the teacher, is an active co-designer of the learning pathway-experience.

List of differences[edit]

Individualization Personalization
Same objectives for all learners Different objective for each learner
Applying of differenced didactic strategies to achieve the key competences Applying of differenced didactic strategies to promote the personal potentiality
The educational curriculum is defined by the educational staff The learner actively participate to the construction of his own curriculum
Valorisation of the cognitive dimension of the learner Valorisation of all dimensions of learner, not only the cognitive (emotional, social, life experience, etc.)
Valorisation of previous knowledge and competencies, formal and non-formal Valorisation of previous knowledge, competence, life and work skill, also informal
Learner’s self-direction as an accessory skill Learner’s self-direction as a fundamental skill
Teacher has a key role Tutor has a key role

Dialogue is a central element to personalization, as it is with all social constructivism in learning spaces. One example of this style of learning is demonstrated by learning logs which support development of thinking and learning skills in students.

Whilst personalized learning may happen in traditional learning contexts such as schools and colleges, it embraces learning that happens anywhere, for example in the home, in the community - anywhere. Personalized learning can happen in partnership with other learners, for example learners working together in a group to study a particular topic. This 'anywhere, anytime, anyplace' learning can be seen in light of the forces of globalization that are influencing this latest trend in education, where time, space and place are experienced as compressed; a death of distance.

According to Pogorskiy (2015),[7] (Pogorskiy, 2015).

ICT and Communications technology can be a powerful tool for personalized learning as it allows learners access to research and information, and provides a mechanism for communication, debate, and recording learning achievements. However, personalized learning is not exclusive to digital technologies or environments. In the rhetoric around 21st Century Skills, personalized learning is often equated with 'customization' (as found in the business world), with digital personalization used to the frame the learning experience as highly efficient. Problematic in this is the discounting of the highly relational and socially constructed space well defined in the research on learning. Narrowing personalized learning to its digital form also raises the concern of the Echo chamber (media) effect emerging in (hyper)personalized online experiences.

The Phases of Learning in a Personalized Environment[edit]

Learning occurs in five phases in a personalized environment. The first phase is the assessment phase, followed by the teaching and learning phase. The third phase is curriculum choice. The departure from typical education models is the fourth phase, and the final phase is education beyond the classroom.[8]

The Role of the Teacher in a Personalized Environment[edit]

The role of the teacher in a personalized learning environment differs from the role a teacher plays in a legacy model classroom. The teacher serves a dual role of being both the advisor and the coach. He or she assesses students’ current level of performance through authentic learning opportunities, and fosters a collegial environment where significant interactions occur through a flexible schedule.[9][10][11]

Instructional Design at the Classroom Level[edit]

Many elements of curriculum, assessment and instructional design must be present at the classroom level for students to experience success in a personalized environment; often these elements are facilitated through a learning relationship management (LRM) system. Students must be actively involved in learning through social participation. Classroom learning activities must be meaningful and build upon prior knowledge. Students must be reflective and strategic by engaging in self-regulation. Teachers need to allocate time for practice, and teachers must help students learn to transfer their learning to multiple situations. The end result of the classroom instructional design should aim for understanding as opposed to memorization. Student learning should be continuously assessed against clearly defined standards and goals. Student choice and input into the assessment process is integral.[8][9][12]


Personalized learning is a new topic within the field of education. It has led to debates in both the UK (2006 to present) and Canada (2010) where some educators are concerned that it could diminish the relational and ethical dimensions of education. Drs. Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley (2009), however, warn about potential negative aspects of some dimensions of personalized learning in their book entitled The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. They write, for example, that while there are advantages in students being able to access information instantly on-line, one should not mistake such processes for "something deeper, more challenging, and more connected to compelling issues in their world and their lives."[13] The general argument is that the agenda around personalized learning is more and more directed to technologically mediated tools.

All of the different parties to the ongoing debates about personalized learning agree that schools should become more flexible and adaptive in responding to the diverse needs and interests of students. They all agree that there is great potential in new technologies. However, they differ in the nature of their criticisms of traditional schools and curricula and in the degree of confidence in the role of technology in contemporary society.

OECD in 2006 published a document about Personalization in the School System. The debate has been enriched by the research activities carried out in 2010 within the European Grundtvig Project named LEADLAB – Leading Elderly and Adult Development LAB (502057-LLP-1-2009-1-IT-GRUNDTVIG-GMP). In this Project the partners, from different European States (Italy, France, Germany, Finland, Greece, Spain, Switzerland), propose a shared European definition of the term Personalization based on an Andragogic concept of Education within the context of the NVAE – Non Vocational Adult Education. This common definition of the term personalization is based on the European experiences of personalization in adult Education, it is not based on a theoretical model defined outside of the country's reality.
This definition includes recurrent features:

  • Involvement of the all dimensions of learner (cognitive, social, emotive);
  • Empowerment of awareness of the learning process;
  • Development of self-regulated learning process;
  • Co-design of the learning pathway and process;
  • Development of self-evaluation process;
  • Learning challenges instead of learning objectives;
  • Learning pathway instead of instructional curriculum or training program;
  • Achievable results are not predictable a priori.

According to this common definition partners propose an integrated European Model of personalization and Guidelines to apply it. The challenge of this synthesis, according to the LEADLAB Project’s partners is therefore to check if, from and beyond the national traditions, this new paradigm can be verified in the different countries, to enable the formulation of a joint proposal at the European level.

According to Bray & McClaskey (2012), there is confusion around the terms Personalized Learning. The focus in the 2010 National Education Technology Plan focused on instruction—not the learner. In a Personalized Learning Environment, learning starts with the learner. The learner understands how they learn best so they are active in designing their learning goals. The learner has a voice in how they like to access and acquire information, and a choice in how they express what they know and how they prefer to engage with the content. When learners own and take responsibility of their learning, they are more motivated and engaged in the learning process.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miliband, David. Choice and Voice in Personalised Learning. Personalising Education. OECD, 2006, p. 24.
  2. ^ The Personalisation by Pieces Framework: A Framework for the Incremental Transformation of Pedagogy Towards Greater Learner Empowerment in Schools. 2006. ISBN 0954314743. 
  3. ^ Hargreaves, David. Personalising
  4. ^ Leadbeater, Charles. We-Think: Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production. Profile Books, 2009.
  5. ^ Hopkins, David. Every School a Great School: Realizing the Potential of System Leadership. McGraw Hill, 2007.
  6. ^ Fullan, Michael. Michael Fullan's Answer to "What is Personalized Learning?" Microsoft Partner Network. 2009.
  7. ^ data collection and the analysis about participants’ data educational projects allows the construction of an individual world view of each participant in the educational process. By utilising a world view, it is increasingly possible to identify potentially interesting topics which are open to the perception of an individual. These themes can serve as a background or context through which an individual will be open to new information. Following the analysis of a world view it seems possible to find authorities whose opinions are important to a person and will affect his behaviour. Understanding of a community’s world view can give insight into the best and most productive combinations in the formation of work groups, learning classes and other human interactions
  8. ^ a b Patrick (2013). "Mean what you say: Defining and integrating personalized, blended and competency education". International Association for K-12 Online Learning.  line feed character in |journal= at position 14 (help); line feed character in |title= at position 32 (help)
  9. ^ a b Lindgren, R., & McDaniel, R. (2012). Transforming Online Learning through Narrative and Student Agency. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15(4), 344–355.
  10. ^ Jenkins, J., & Keefe, J. (2002). Two Schools: Two Approaches to Personalized Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 449-456.
  11. ^ Schwartz, D. L., & Arena, D. (2009). Choice-based assessments for the digital age
  12. ^ Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research & Development,48(3), 23–48.
  13. ^ Hargreaves, Andy, and Shirley, Dennis. The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Corwin, 2009, page 84.

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