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New Report Parses Personalized, Blended, and Competency Education

The concepts of personalized learning, blended learning, and competency-based learning often get mushed together in discussions about new models of education. To help people sort out what each concept means and how it connects to the others, an organization promoting those new forms of learning has published a whitepaper laying out the distinctions.

According to "Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended, and Competency Education," a 37-page document from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), personalized learning calls for "tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible."

Blended learning adds technology to that equation. Through a combination of "face-to-face learning experiences and online learning platforms, content, and tools for personalizing instruction," this model can "support flexible pacing, differentiated instruction, immediate interventions, and anywhere, any time learning."

Competency-based education stands in contrast to the traditional approach of schools in which credit is given to a student based more on how much time is spent in the classroom than on how much he or she actually learns. In a competency model, the student advances by demonstrating mastery. A competency approach "enables personalized learning by opening the system constraints to allow multiple pathways for demonstrating what a student knows and can do," the report's authors explained.

"The field of leaders developing next-generation school designs is growing rapidly and it is easy to fall into the trap of using interrelated concepts as if they are one and the same," said iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick. "Often, people will use terms such as blended learning or competency-based learning as stand-ins for personalized learning. This paper aims to make sense of these terms individually and then show how they fit together."

The document also includes a number of resources that explore each concept further. The report is available online at inacol.org.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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