Integrated Personalized Learning


Personalized learning includes a wide variety of approaches to support self-directed and group-based learning that can be designed around each learner’s goals. Solving this challenge means incorporating concepts more into school activities such as:

• Personalized learning environments and network
• Adaptive learning tools

Educational arrangements should favor self-initiated, self-chosen learning, and that relegate programmed teaching to limited, clearly specified occasions. (Illich, 1973) Using a growing set of free and simple resources, such as a collection of apps on a tablet, it is already quite easy to support one’s ongoing social and cognitive learning and other activities with a collection of resources and tools that are always on hand. There are two paths of development for personalized learning:

• The first is organized by and for the learner, which includes apps, social media, and related software.
• The other path is driven by school goals and interests, primarily in the form of adaptive learning. In this pathway, adaptive learning is enabled by intervention-focused machine intelligence that interprets data about how a student is learning and responds by changing the learning environment based on their needs.

While the concept of personalized learning is fairly fluid, it is becoming clearer that it is individualized by design, different from person to person, and built around a vision of life-long learning. The goal of integrating more personalized learning into schools is to enable students to learn with their own strategy and pace, and demonstrate their knowledge in a manner that is uniquely their own. As Covington (1998) remarked, “Students must be taught to create their own mental strategies, and to encourage a view of learning as an on-going, open-ended process in which meaning is created by the learner, not simply dispensed by authority” (p. 200).

Free or nearly free cloud computing tools, for example, allow users to:

• Create personalized learning environments
• Easily store the content they want
• Share their content with others
• Gather new and relevant items
• Write personal commentary
• Complete assignments, and more

In a personalized learning model Mastery Learning (see: Mastery Learning) students, with the help of self-paced exercises proceed at varying rates toward the same level of mastery. Those who learn more quickly can move ahead or do “enrichment exercises.” Those who learn more slowly are helped along by individual tutoring, or peer assistance, or additional homework. Students learn at their own pace, advancing to the next concept only after reaching a prescribed degree of mastery over the previous concept. Teachers serve primarily as guides and mentors rather than lecturers. Peer interaction is encouraged; peers helping peers is of benefit not only academically, but in character-building as well. Some students might struggle, but none are given up on (see: Personalized/Blended-based eLearning and Competency-based Learning).

Johnson, et al, (2014) reported that YouTube, iTunes U, Facebook, and other social media provide students with outlets to discover new content, disseminate their own, and develop digital portfolios they can carry with them and build upon throughout their formal schooling and life-long learning. At Point England School, for instance, students use Blog-spot blogs as online portfolios to record their learning experiences and outcomes (p. 36).

This individualized learning challenge is considered solvable because the underlying technologies needed to support personalized learning are readily available now (p. 88). For example, a student’s smartphone or tablet and their collection of apps directly represent their assortment of interests. With hundreds of thousands of apps available in multiple marketplaces, it is easy to see how no two people are likely to share the exact same set. Everyone has distinctive preferences, and approaches learning and exploration differently; this is the basic premise of personalized learning.

In many ways, Finland is perceived as a model for this trend, which is exemplified at Peltosaari School where ActiveInspire software and mobile devices are used to promote writing, photography, video and audio production, and other unique demonstrations of student knowledge acquisition. Though the term “personalized learning” may conjure images of students working alone, the school encourages collaborative activities in which students share ideas and create materials together, based on their learning similarities and differences (p. 36).

While many writers believe that Finland offers a number of useful frameworks, (p. 90) educational researchers are also emphasizing the need for learning settings to be adaptable and flexible in order for personalized learning to take root (p. 91). Students’ preferences and needs must be understood accurately before designing or implementing personalized learning activities. The goal is to give the student permission to make their learning as effective and efficient as possible, but adequate mentorship especially at the K-12 level, is still a clear necessity. In this model, there is a need for teachers to adjust their roles in the classroom to focus less on dispensing information through lectures and more on being guides.

Personalized learning is, at its core, a way to allow students to pursue their education according to their individual needs. Some students, for example, may benefit from curating their own resource collections (content curation is the process of collecting, organizing and displaying information). The European Union’s Responsive Open Learning Environments (ROLE) project took this approach in an effort to study the impact of student-created environments for personalized learning. Resources including YouTube, Wikipedia, and Flickr were used to support teachers and students in developing open-source personal learning environments for their students. Over the four years of the project, ROLE developed, tested, and deployed an operating learning environment and a collection of ROLE-designed widgets (p. 36).

Adaptive learning software in the form of online learning platforms is an emerging area within the personalized learning space, but one that shows the potential of guiding students’ individual progress through real-time formative assessment. These tools are envisioned as providing students and educators with tailored information about how lessons are progressing, with adjustments made on the fly as needed. Knewton provides online learning platforms that use such data to react and adapt to a student’s behavior and performance (p. 37).

Through predictive analytics and a recommendations engine, the application evaluates student proficiencies, factors in teacher and student-indicated goals, and maps the relationships between learners and the content in order to determine the most appropriate pathways and priorities for each student. There is already considerable consensus among government, policymakers, and school leaders of the importance of identifying methods of personalization that can be integrated into schools at scale.

A 2013 report from the American Institute of Research, Are Personalized Learning Environments the Next Wave of K–12 Education Reform?, examines the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) grant program, in which personalized learning was a major focus. The initial 16 grantees – awarded a total of $383 million – include 11 school districts, three charter agencies, and two consortia.

Through the RTT-D program, these institutions are developing:

• Blended learning environments
• Individualized college and career readiness plans
• Competency-based models

All of which are all seen by the government as key to implementing effective personalized learning. As an example, grantee Carson City School District in Nevada is facilitating more individualized post-graduation preparation through career clusters that enable students to select and learn more deeply about the areas they are interested in, including business, agriculture, and information technology; and at Colegio Montserrat School in Spain, every fourth year student is given their own iPad or laptop, which they use with the school’s LMS, built on Moodle. This allows them to choose their own pathways through a learning landscape while their progress is charted in their personal e-portfolios (p. 37).

A personalize learning environment proposed by Salman Khan includes student:

• Work at their own pace
• Pick up core skills via software like Khan Academy
• Have teachers tracking their progress and helping out as needed

Most of the day would be spent on creative projects, with kids working together across age groups. And the whole place would be suffused with a spirit of experimentation, with teachers testing out new ideas and collecting data to measure their efficacy (Khan, 2012).

Two other personalized learning programs can be found in the concepts of “Unschoolery” (, Leo Babauta, 2014) and “Unshackled and Unschooled: Free–Range Learning Movement Grows” ( unshackled, Lorna Collier, MindShift, 2014). In the Unschoolery model, there is no curriculum, but instead students take authority, deciding exactly what they want to learn. Unschooling allows students to recognize that learning happens anywhere and everywhere and the keys are channeling curiosity, agency, and self-motivation.

Unshackled model is a subset of the homeschooling community and is based on giving the student control over choosing what they want to learn rather than following a prescribed curriculum. The hope is that students will view life as a constant learning environment rather than separating school from the informal learning that takes place outside of any institution. Unshackled rejects conventional methods of learning and instead emphasizes education through natural means, such as:

• Gameplay
• Work experience
• Household responsibilities
• Freedom for learners to pursue their personal interests. (1)

While there are no concrete statistics that convey how many students are currently being unschooled, there is a growing crop of websites and online forums that demonstrate a burgeoning community of participants and supporters, such as Life without School (2), Unschoolery (3), and Whether or not this model gains traction over the next five years, it is stimulating important conversations about the need to move to more progressive education paradigms that better engage all kinds of learners, even in traditional settings.

Generally speaking, trends in hiring make it clear that soft skills are differentiating outstanding applicants from the rest of the pack, and are essential practices for solving problems in a world that is increasingly interconnected. Work ethic and the ability to persevere through tough challenges, both social and academic, are reinforced in formal education environments. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has profound implications for primary and secondary education because it creates the conditions for student-centered learning to take place (p. 29).


As referenced in a recent Education Week article, educators’ ability to personalize instruction using technology is imperative as the student population becomes increasingly varied by race, achievement level and socioeconomic status. But a lack of high-quality curricula designed to support that personalized learning is stalling the effort, according to a new report.

Digital Promise, a California-based nonprofit organization, calls for increased emphasis on supports and resources designed for personalized learning with this more diverse student population. Personalized learning is the concept that curriculum is adapted to serve each individual student’s needs based on their learning style, background, interests and experiences. New technology is key to allowing educators to provide this personalized support, the report says.

Without changes to improve and strengthen personalized learning, the report says, the social and economic disparities and achievement gaps of students who historically struggle in school will persist and grow, and the risk of marginalizing more students increases. Data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Education have both shown that the number of students from low-income families has increased by 7 percent in the last 35 years. The number of students who are English-language learners has increased by 5 percent in the same time period and the number of students who have been diagnosed with disabilities has increased by 6 percent. This data highlights the changing demographics of the U.S. K-12 student population and highlights the underlying need to rethink the way classroom learning is approached, the report says.

Students who come from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds typically have a harder time remembering difficult concepts. According to Sam Redding, a senior learning specialist at the Center on Innovations in Learning, technology is helping educators individualize their teaching practices to meet the needs of these students. “Advocates of personalized learning see technology as a way to efficiently connect instruction to each student’s interests, preferences, and needs, and to make practical the advocates’ philosophical predilection for personal discovery and experiential education,” Redding said. “Learning management systems enable a teacher (and the student) to connect learning goals with student portfolios, online assessments, and searchable resources in multiple formats.”

The Digital Promise report further cites examples of instances when researchers tested systematic learning software on elementary-age students and found that these technologies improved student skills. Personalized learning will be most beneficial to the greater educational community if stakeholders from the business and education world collaborate to create tools and software that allow individual students to learn key skills in the early years of their education and beyond, the report finds.

Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology was designed to help educators and administrators understand the concepts behind personalized learning, and to share with them the strategies, policies, devices, services, techniques and resources available to transform teaching into something more relevant, more powerful, and more rewarding.

Published by ISTE with support from Intel, this guidebook helps today’s educators make sense of the shifting landscape in modern education. While this changing ecosystem poses significant challenges, it also offers countless opportunities to engage students in meaningful ways to improve their learning outcomes. This book provides the information needed to implement personalized learning with technology and concludes with a step-by-step guide to planning, funding, and implementing a school-wide personalized learning program.