Personalized Learning: Accommodation or Pandering?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

It seems to be one of the “in” things right now. What does it really mean? Is it always a good thing? How can it be implemented in a way that is meaningful?

What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’? | MindShift | KQED News.

What does it really mean?

According to this article, some people think that personalized learning is letting the student go through a prescribed set of activities or work at their own pace. I agree with the article that this isn’t really it. What they are describing is more in line with Programmed Instruction, although it’s still missing the actual personalized part. That would require assessing the student and only requiring them to do those parts that they need to (I talk about a variety of different kinds of instruction in my upcoming book).

According to the article:

(A) truly personalized learning experience requires student choice, is individualized, meaningful and resource rich.

Apparently, THIS is personalized learning:


So, personalized learning is about learning how I want, what I want, when I want, where I want and why I want.

Is it always a good thing?

I would say no. Allowing for a considerable degree of variability, sure. Allowing for this approach sometimes, also sure. But one thing I have learned in my 35+ years of teaching: most of us don’t know what we don’t know. Sounds obvious right? But think about it. If students are given too much control of and choice over their own learning, we are likely to end up with a generation that is even more selfish (and therefor less empathetic) than they are now. We can’t afford that.

How can it be implemented in a way that is meaningful?

  1. Be clear on what is important in learning. It is fine to say that students need to learn certain things. Be sure you understand why they need to learn this and what it is good for.
  2. You choose the endpoint, but let them choose how to get there. Be prepared to help them along.
  3. The younger or less experienced the student, the more guidance they may need, but be prepared to back off when they demonstrate that they can do it.
  4. Set the standard. You need to decide what constitutes ‘good enough’.  By all means help go beyond what is required when they want to, but you must also make sure they meet the minimum standards (and that those standards make sense).
  5. Be an example. Don’t ever make your students do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
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