Personalized Learning

Report: Personalized Learning Helps Students


Students who experienced personalized learning in school gained about three percentile points in mathematics relative to a comparison group of similar students, according to a RAND report on personalized learning released today.

In the subject of reading, the study found a similar trend, although it was not statistically significant. The report determined that both low-performing and high-performing students appeared to benefit from personalized learning.

The report builds on RAND’s 2015 report on personalized learning, looking deeper into the implementation of the practice and exploring how it may play out as the innovation becomes more widespread.

Personalized learning (PL) doesn’t quite yet have a broadly accepted definition, but the lead author of the report, John F. Pane, said it’s “a system of education that prioritizes a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each student, and tailors instruction to address those needs and goals.”

PL can involve “time for one-on-one tailored support for learning using up-to-date information on student progress to personalize instruction and group students; students tracking their own progress; competency based practices; and flexible use of staff, space and time,” according to a summary of the report.

PL appeared easier to implement in charter schools than in district schools, the report said.

For this report, researchers looked at PL practices in 40 schools, 31 of which are charters and nine that are traditional district schools. The schools studied are predominantly in urban areas (only two were in rural areas) and serve large proportions of low-income students and students of color, the report said. Data was originally collected during the 2014-15 school year.

“This research builds on several other reports we’ve put out over past years,” Pane said in an interview. “In a previous report, we showed that personalized learning can produce extremely positive achievement results. That report got quite a bit of attention. Here, we see positive achievement effects as well, but not so large.”

According to Pane, a senior scientist in RAND’s education unit, and today’s report, technology plays an important role in PL. “In a variety of ways, technology holds promise to enable personalization to an extent that was not possible at large scale in an earlier era,” the report states. “Technology’s greatest role may be to manage the complexity of the personalization process. By occasionally providing instruction or supporting independent learning, technology can also enable educators to take a more personalized approach in their own teaching efforts and other activities they undertake to support student learning and development.”

This study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges. To view the full report, visit this site.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].