5 Key Elements of a Personalized Learning Evironment

Posted by Reed Howard on Oct 16, 2016 10:00:00 PM

There is no denying that personalized learning is one of the most pervasive buzzwords currently going around in education. Accordingly, we hear the term "personalized learning experiences" thrown around quite a bit as a goal of schools and classrooms.

However, personalized learning is often equated to the idea: "as long as the experience isn’t the same for every student, it’s personalized." Simply put, that "definition" is a very broad brush to paint with and it leaves out quite a few important details.

Read below the break to learn more about five often overlooked, but vitally important elements of a truly personalized learning environment.

A true personalized learning environment

1) Supplies opportunities for every student in every possible situation

What I mean by "every student in every situation" is that the curriculum you provide must be accessible to each individual student, regardless of status, learning pace, interests, etc. -- i.e. you don't have a personalized learning environment if the personalized experience is only truly available to those who have access to iPads and netbooks outside of the classroom.

This element may seem like a given, but it’s worth mentioning considering just how different students can be from one another. Each student's socio-economic status, language ability, learning disadvantages, etc. must to be considered for any school seeking to adopt a personalized curriculum.

2) Utilizes near-constant assessment techniques

Hey, I know that the over-assessment of today's kids already carries a negative stigma, but you cannot provide a truly personalized learning experience without constant assessment techniques. In a literal sense, you must have an understanding of what Jane or Johnny knows at regular intervals in order to tailor a personalized learning experience.

The key is to not get mired in the idea that every assessment you administer must be a sit-down quiz or test. Use your own instincts as an educator as well as valuable and descriptive assessment means (formal and informal, formative and summative, online and offline) to develop a constant stream of prescriptive understanding and awareness. This real-time status will help you make informed decisions on the next step of a personalized curriculum.

3) Provides a prescriptive curriculum to each student

No two students are the same and neither are their educational histories. If a basic concept was not understood when it was first taught, the lack of mastery can impede learning for the rest of the student’s career (in school and beyond). Additionally, if a student is excelling at a particular subject or concept, the same-old curriculum path may be boring and unchallenging, causing the student to disengage.

Beginning with your constant assessment process, use the findings and observations to quickly diagnose these knowledge gaps and accelerated proficiencies. The next step is to apply a prescriptive curriculum that both addresses the knowledge gaps/proficiencies and provides your individual student the needed learning content to meet his/her needs and help him/her get back on their own track.

4) Affords students the ability to learn via different modalities

Here's where the differentiated aspect of personalized learning becomes very important. Each student (most-likely) has an ideal learning modality or a combination of modalities. Maybe Johhny likes a more interactive approach (tactile) while Jane wants to listen to learning content via a tablet or computer (auditory). Your personalized learning environment must be able to tailor itself to the instruction methods in which your student learns best.

Identifying the ideal learning modality is a two-part process involving the student and you. In the later grades, you can often simply ask students how they like to learn and combine their responses with your own observations and analysis. However, for younger students, chances are they probably don't know what they like yet. In this case, don't be afraid of a little trial and error or formative assessment. Look for both engagement, demeanor changes, and concrete progress data (at all age levels) to help inform your observations.

5) Truly addresses student interests and needs

Don't forget, relevant information is learned information. Your learning environment should account for the goals of the student when making decisions on aspects of the personalized curriculum.

  • Are we staying with the state learning standards or are we moving the student toward a chosen career?
  • How can we do both, if need be?
  • What kinds of situations could come up in that career that we can address through math or other subject areas?

These questions are pivitol in crafting a personalized curriculum and help deter the dreaded question, “Where am I going to use this?” Instead, there should be a cognizant plan between you and the student that results in tailoring the learning (and your conversation) to both show interest and to guide the learning toward those goals.

I'll admit this last element is very difficult in a class of 20-30 students, but isn't the overarching idea of helping students identify and reach their learning goals the reason we all got into education in the first place?

What are your key elements of a personalized learning environment?

These five points are a good start but they definitely do not cover the whole story. We'd love to hear about the key elements and strategies that define your personalized learning efforts!

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