With our Getting Personal event taking place on May 25, we wanted to share our perspective on the topic of Personalized Learning, along with some core definitions and examples. If this topic interests you, please be sure to register here!

Understanding Personalized Learning
Personalized learning consists of learning strategies, solutions, and interventions that align with individual learner goals and account for differences in background knowledge, passion or interest in topics, and subject mastery. The purpose of personalized learning is to empower students to take ownership of the learning experience and prime themselves for lifelong learning. Giving students more autonomy can increase motivation and engagement with the subject matter. The increasing focus on customizing instruction to meet students’ unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that are making it possible to support learners’ individual learning paths. A major barrier, however, is that scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only recently begun to emerge and are still evolving and gaining traction within educational settings.

The Higher Education Perspective
According to the NMC Horizon Report  > 2016 Higher Education Edition, approaches to personalized learning in higher education are emerging and increasing in momentum. On the surface, the term “personal” may connote a solitary experience, but effective personalized learning approaches have the potential to facilitate an open, ongoing dialog between the student and instructor, providing each with crucial insights about which areas need further attention. One approach to implementing personalized learning is through enabling technologies such as adaptive learning solutions and digital courseware that aim to provide interventions on the level of one-on-one tutoring, showing students where improvement is needed as they move through the material. Integrating technology tools with the appropriate curriculum design is key to ensuring instructional goals are met. However, a balance must be struck between computer intervention and human thinking as students must be actively involved in progressing their own understanding instead of simply relying on machine guidance.  Instructors need more training opportunities around personalized learning, but they must also be heavily involved in the design of personalized learning initiatives. A top-down approach where faculty are mandated to use technologies without consideration of how they fit in with curriculum or desired learning outcomes could be harmful.  What makes personalizing learning a difficult challenge in higher education is that interest in the approach is outpacing the number of large-scale implementations and tangible outcomes in higher education are still scarce.

  • The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
    The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee integrated U-Pace, a self-paced course that includes individual progress reports supplemented by personalized feedback from instructors to keep students motivated and help them understand their strengths and weaknesses. After completing the course, students performed 16% higher on cumulative exams than students who had not taken the U-Pace course.
  • Arizona State University and Cogbooks
    Adaptive, personalized courseware developed by CogBooks through the Next Generation Courseware initiative was piloted in 2015 at Arizona State University in biology and US history courses. Data and dashboards enhanced personalized interaction and communication between faculty and students.
  • Stanford University
    Stanford University’s Open Learning Initiative is leveraging learning analytics, providing online students with targeted feedback along with self-assessment tools so they can better understand their knowledge gaps and adjust their study plans accordingly.
  • Learning to Adapt – Essex County College
    During Essex County College’s personalized learning implementation, the biggest challenges were students regulating their own work unsuccessfully, along with the unwillingness of educators to adapt their teaching methods. e-Literate TV has created a video case study on Essex County College’s personalized learning initiative: view part 1 and part 2.

The K-12 Perspective
The NMC Horizon Report  > 2015 K-12 Edition describes how much of the discussion around personalizing learning in K-12 is focused on redesigning how schools work and how it challenges the traditional paradigm of education. The potential for truly personalized learning, which is founded on learner autonomy and individualized progress and support, is constrained by the overwhelming pressure for schools to prepare students for standardized assessments. Replacing the traditional paradigm of the school experience also requires a consolidated vision of what 21st century schools look like so that national directives can support new ideas. Innovative approaches to using technology for deeper learning are materializing globally, transforming traditional paradigms. One approach, hybrid learning, draws on from best practices in online and face-to-face methods and is on the rise in K-12 schools. Schools that use these pedagogical approaches are finding that these emerging models support personalized learning, resulting in more engaged, self-directed students. When designed and implemented effectively, hybrid models allow students to practice and achieve mastery of content at their own pace. Teachers are then freed up to focus on small groups of students who need more support to succeed. Progress in learning analytics, adaptive learning, and a combination of cutting-edge digital platforms will continue to advance this trend toward integrated online learning and keep it compelling.

  • Taylor County School District – Kentucky
    In Kentucky, students in the Taylor County School District are receiving personalized learning through a performance-based education environment in which their “Individual Learning Paths” are designed to fit individual interests and career goals.
  • Cornwallis Academy in England
    At Cornwallis Academy in England, students have a range of choices for how their productivity unfolds each day, and teachers keep them on track by providing a stream of continuous feedback.
  • Greenwood College School – Toronto
    A history teacher at Toronto’s Greenwood College School developed online materials for a variety of 1920s unit topics to allow his students choice. The students were provided built-in opportunities to explore themes based on their interests and to work at a pace that was appropriate for their learning needs.

The Museum Perspective
As highlighted in the NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Museum Edition, museums are uniquely suited to maximize their creative spaces by configuring custom, technology-enhanced events that personalize the visitor experience. Guided by the core value of creativity, museums are changing the way they engage with patrons and are fostering more interactive experiences by leveraging emerging technology tools. Mobile devices have become a gateway to personalize learning environments because they afford a level of ease for exploration and productivity to happen anywhere, at any time. Additionally, location-based services, such as Bluetooth Beacons and ByteLight technologies that digitally pinpoint the physical position of an object or individual through Wi-Fi cellular networks, have become a mainstay in many museums.  These tools use networked sensors to send personalized content to visitors via their smart devices. These emerging wayfinding technologies allow museums to engage with the individual by providing a unique, personalized experience based on the individuals’ chosen pathway through the museum and provide convenient information or recommendations pertaining to their surroundings, such as shortcuts and nearby cultural sites. This personalization of content and services empowers museums to meet visitors where they are and make their trip to the museum more memorable.  The future of the technology lies not just in discerning an individual’s location, but also in delivering helpful information before they even ask for it.

  • MIT’s ‘Local Warming’ Exhibit
    MIT’s “Local Warming,” an art installation displayed at the Vienna Architecture Biennale, used Wi-Fi-based motion tracking to track the movement of visitors throughout the exhibit. The technology sent the person’s coordinates to a range of IR lamps that responded by radiating pinpointed warmth to the moving person.
  • LabWerk’s mApp – Netherlands
    In the Netherlands, LabWerk’s new mApp platform uses iBeacon technology to enhance their visitor’s engagement by sending targeted messages to their smartphone or tablet. The messages direct visitors to specific information or additional places of interest.
  • National Museum Wales
    The National Museum Wales used iBeacons in their National Slate Museum to aid in visitor engagement and personalization. The embedded technology allowed visitors to access digital content, watch demonstrations, or visit the museum’s “learning zone” to participate in online activities and quizzes on their personal device.

Impact
The goal of personalized learning is to create opportunities for learners to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn and take in information. While enabling technologies such as mobile devices and adaptive learning environments support student-centered learning, this challenge is concerned with the need to design instructional models that emphasize the individual over the one-size-fits-all standard. While progress has been made toward defining “personalized learning,” technological tools and emerging pedagogical models that support a personalized environment need greater understanding and evaluation. Personalizing learning is a difficult task that educational institutions are only just beginning to fully grasp. Catering to each learner by providing customized opportunities and support requires careful implementation. This approach shows potential to empower individuals to articulate and become invested in their own achievements. Therefore, personalized learning continues to gain momentum as an instrumental method of engaging individuals with compelling, unique experiences that are meaningful and individualized.