Teaching with Technology

The 4 Common Characteristics of Personalized Learning

iNACOL offers ideas for implementing personalized learning in K-12 schools with the support of families and the community.

The 4 Common Characteristics of Personalized Learning 

Over the last decade, technology has radically altered the way we live, work and communicate, yet many schools continue to follow the industrial age model of education established more than 100 years ago. Personalized learning presents the opportunity to shift education by tailoring the learning experience to an individual student's needs and interests while helping them gain the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to succeed in college and career, according to a new report from iNACOL.

The report, What’s Possible with Personalized Learning? An Overview of Personalized Learning for Schools, Families & Communities, aims to "inform schools, families and communities about the potential of personalized learning and empower them with ways to support the shift to student-centered learning." To achieve this goal, the report details the characteristics of personalized learning, presents case studies of schools that have implemented this approach, and offers suggestions for building family and community support for the shift.

According to the report, there are many different approaches to personalized learning, but most of them share these common characteristics:

  • Student ownership of their learning process;
  • Focus on the learning process rather than "big end-of-year tests";
  • Competency or mastery-based student progression; and
  • Anytime, anywhere learning.

Students in these classrooms have the opportunity to learn in a way that suits their individual needs and interests. While assessments are still critical, they serve more as tools to inform the learning process rather than a yardstick for measuring the results of that process. Students still have clear learning goals and objectives, but the assessments are integrated into the day and serve to determine when students are ready to move on to the next skill or concept. Personalized learning also involves opportunities to learn outside the classroom or school day, through real-world experiences in the community or digital learning opportunities.

However, schools that implement personalized learning sometimes encounter resistance from families or other members of the public who expect school to look the same as it did when they were students. The report offers suggestions for gaining the support of those individuals and groups by educating them about the benefits of personalized learning, being open about the changes happening in education and engaging them in the process of transformation.

The report also includes stories from individual students and teachers about their experiences with personalized learning, as well as links to supporting materials and suggestions for further reading.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is a nonprofit organization focusing on research, developing policy for student-centered education to ensure equity and access, developing quality standards for emerging learning models using online, blended and competency-based education and supporting the ongoing professional development of classroom, school, and district leaders for new learning models.

The full report is available as a free, downloadable PDF from iNACOL's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].