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Starting a Personalized Learning Program: 4 Questions Educators Should Ask

Starting a Personalized Learning Program: 4 Questions Educators Should Ask

Personalized learning is a buzzword that’s gotten lots of attention in the education world over the past couple of years, but a clear definition can still be difficult to come by. And for educators looking to implement a personalized learning approach in their school or classroom, knowing where to start can be downright confusing. As with any significant undertaking, plenty of forethought, the right conversations, and a clear plan are key to success. So, before you embark on your own personalized journey, start with asking yourself these four questions:

How do you define personalized learning?

If you were to poll the educational community and ask “What is personalized learning?”, you’d likely get nearly as many answers as you have participants. The answers would probably include similar themes, but personalized learning, is well, personal. And that’s okay!

Personalized learning isn’t about implementing one-to-one devices or following specific curricula (although technology and curriculum certainly play a part). At its core, the approach is much more about allowing students to direct how they learn. In a personalized learning model, students have more autonomy. The teacher’s role is not to push ideas; it’s to facilitate the learning process for each child and their unique needs.

How much freedom is too much?

When the overall goal is student autonomy, there’s a natural level of freedom that comes along with that. But, it can be daunting for teachers to give up control in their classroom. So, what level of control are you comfortable handing over to students?

There is no right or wrong answer here, just a best answer for you.

Personalized learning can work for you, no matter your starting point. Ultimately, it's about giving students options on what they study, how they go about learning, and what kind of work they want to produce. You can still control what the day’s schedule looks like, set parameters around the most appropriate use of that time, and direct how your students interact with each other. In that regard, with a personalized learning approach not much will change from traditional classroom management practices. Just be prepared to provide students with more of a framework, and fewer step-by-step instructions.

What resources are available?

Yes, in most successful personalized learning classrooms, technology plays a major role. Online programs and devices can inform instruction, shape curriculum, and scaffold lessons. This can be a great benefit for teachers, as it frees up additional time to work closely with students.

But, not everyone has significant technology resources at their disposal. And, to offer an authentic personalized learning experience, you have to think beyond technology. Therefore, the onus is on you to think of creative ways to use all of the resources you have to identify your students’ strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, and to build them into your lesson plans. You’re certainly capable of it—after all, teachers are pros at doing a lot with a little. It’s all about evolving the way that you plan; it may take more time and effort at first, but with practice it will get easier.

What kind of support system do you have?

It’s worth saying again—making the switch to a personalized learning model is a big undertaking. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and oftentimes ambiguous. Adopting the approach takes a willingness to experiment, face failures, and iterate on your approach. Having other educators to bounce ideas off of is an invaluable resource. So, before you dive into a personalized initiative, take stock of your professional network. Do you know other educators—whether in your building, your broader community, or online—who are already using the approach, or are also interested in embarking on it? If your network is lacking, don’t despair! Look into professional development opportunities within your district, start searching for teacher blogs, or check out a Twitter chat. Educators are an outstandingly collaborative group, and learning from your peers will benefit you and your personalized learning program.

Ready to get started with personalized learning? Check out how Edmentum’s online programs can support your initiative with diagnostic assessments, individualized learning paths, and meaningful student data!

beth.holine's picture
Beth Holine

Beth Holine joined Edmentum in 2011 as a Marketing Specialist. In her role, she works to provide teachers and educators with innovative, useful resources. Beth has a B.S. in Psychology from the Iowa State University.