The Benefits and Challenges of Personalized Learning

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Academic Leadership//

March 19, 2018

Personalized learning initiatives—a specific focus on matching students’ individual learning styles and competencies to their educational processes—have long been a focus for private-independent schools. As technology makes personalized learning initiatives even more individualized, a new study has analyzed the impact of personalized learning and whether it’s truly helping students succeed.

The RAND Corp., a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, recently published Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects. According to the study, “Personalized learning prioritizes a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each individual student and the tailoring of instruction to address those needs and goals.”

The researchers aimed to understand where personalized learning initiatives stand today, what obstacles block the way of implementing these initiatives, and how students benefit from this teaching style. Researchers analyzed 40 schools that use personal learning models in some capacity, totaling roughly 10,600 students.

The researchers used four strategies to identify whether a school had adopted a personalized learning model:

  • The school created learner profiles to record each student’s individual strengths, needs, motivations, progress, and goals. The records were used by teachers in the classroom. They were also made available to students and their families to help guide each student’s educational path.
  • Personal learning pathways allowed the students to choose how they wanted to intake the information while still holding them to a high standard of learning.
  • Students used competency-based progression, moving at their own pace and only progressing to the next level of learning once proving proficiency in the preceding topic.
  • The school used flexible learning environments to ensure that space, teachers, and time were best used to support the personalized needs of each student.

After analyzing each school, researchers learned that many schools used different methods, technologies, and programs to fulfill their personalized learning initiatives. This made it difficult to draw overarching conclusions. However, they did identify some benefits and challenges in their findings.

The Benefits

Schools that implemented personalized learning initiatives had students fare slightly better academically. Students, “experienced positive achievement effects in mathematics and reading, although the effects were only statistically significant in mathematics,” according to the study.

This was true for students in all grade levels. Teachers also reported making more time for one-on-one instruction with individual students.

The Challenges

At a theoretical level, schools that use personalized learning initiatives differ greatly from those that use traditional methods. But in practice, “schools have implemented personalized learning initiatives to a varying degree, with none of the schools looking as radically different from traditional schools as theory might predict. This is due in part to the schools trying various combinations of strategies and features, rather than all of them; to the newness of the schools in the study; and to external constraints,” according to the study.

Barriers to personalized learning initiatives included, “poor integration of data systems, tensions between competency-based practices and meeting grade-level standards, and the time needed to develop personalized lessons,” according to the researchers.

Teachers reported it difficult to implement personalized learning initiatives. They struggled with time management and competing priorities to ensure students received everything they needed.

There is still much to explore when it comes to personalized learning and ensuring students receive the best education possible for their needs. Continue to work with your faculty and fellow administrators to create policies and procedures that make sense for your students and your mission.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 17 No. 3 Empower Your Teachers to Improve Student Outcomes
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 14 No. 6 Three Ways to Use Tech to Empower Gen Z for Success

Additional ISM resources for Gold members:
I&P Vol. 28 No. 8 Technology and Your Faculty's Professional Development
Vol. 35 No. 3 The 21st Century School: Curriculum and Technology


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