Living in the information age, with all the power of technology at our fingertips, has impacted the daily learning experience in our schools and classrooms. We now have the opportunity to offer every child a first-class, student-centered education through personalized learning. However, it seems that there are issues in how educators define this progressive, anytime/anywhere methodology for learning. There is no shortage of buzzwords in education, and currently two terms are trending: blended learning and personalized learning. The terms are often used interchangeably or without thorough understanding. They both promise to use technology to deliver instruction to meet the unique needs of students, but when various descriptions and words are used interchangeably, there is a problem that could impact implementation in a negative way. We are on the brink of transforming how we educate our future citizens with the use of technology, but it is important for educators to have a common understanding of these terms and methodologies so that we can learn from each other.
Personalized learning is a concept that has varied and sometimes controversial meanings, depending on how it referenced. The term personalized learning has been used by online schools and companies selling online learning programs to K-12 public schools that are designing and implementing new school designs. In some educational circles, blended learning (the practice of using both online and in-person learning) is used interchangeably with personalized learning. The difference between personalized learning and other concepts such as next generation learning and blended learning has not always been clear. The definition of personalized learning continues to evolve as funding provided by foundations such as the Gates, Dell, and Broad Foundations focuses on furthering personalized learning models through efforts such as the Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC).
The NGLC was created to accelerate educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. NGLC defined personalized learning as the approaches that individualize learning for each student based on specific strengths and needs, student interests, and/or individualized goals. It funded regional partners and proposed that next gen learning incorporate personalized learning, and that seamless integration with technology was necessary to implement it effectively, affordably, and at significant scale. Technology advocacy groups, with contributions from educators, developed a working definition of the attributes of personalized learning that included competency-based progression, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.
In high schools in which students’ courses have a flipped classroom model, students use school-issued Chromebooks to read and research primary and secondary texts online outside of school. This frees up school-based learning time for greater concentration on meaningful project-based and experiential learning. Students are empowered to progress in their learning as they demonstrate proficiency over broad competencies through projects, research papers, social media, and multimedia presentations that reflect ways in which they will have to demonstrate mastery in real life, often before panels of teachers, students, parents, and community members. Advances in technology provide us with an opportunity to reimagine school and personalize learning in ways that will benefit our students now and in the future.