Individualized Instruction, Differentiated Instruction, and Personalized Learning are big buzz terms in todays digital education world. Unfortunately, these three digital instruction techniques all-to-often seem to be thrown around as a single, interchangeable idea.
The problem is, these terms do not mean the SAME thing. In fact, the three actually have significantly different definitions, execution methods, and learning outcomes. The chronic misuse of these terms prompted me to create an easy-to-understand, basic description of what an educator means (or should mean) when they intend to provide Individualized, Differentiated, and/or Personalized Learning.
Definition: instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs. (per U.S. Department of Education)
The simple breakdown of this definition is that when individualizing instruction, educators assign standard goals for their entire group of students, but must also allow each individual student to progress at his or her own pace/understanding while meeting learning needs and goals.
In this case, the whole class/grade is held to the same learning standards and objectives, but individual students have the ability to skip already mastered topics while others may require reinforcement or additional remediation. Essentially, the learning endpoint is the same, but the means to get there are defined by each students individual abilities.
Definition: instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them. (per U.S. Department of Education)
The Differentiated Instruction and Individualized Instruction definition both note that learning goals are the same for all students. However, Differentiated Instruction differs by calling for varying the modality of instruction, instead of the pace.
This means that educators striving to differentiate instruction should be cognizant of how each individual student learns best (visual, kinesthetically, auditory, etc.) and must strive to acknowledge these learning modalities by offering multiple avenues to the daily content.
Definition: instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. (per U.S. Department of Education)
Personalized Learning is an interesting case. To personalize instruction, educators must individualize the pace and learning goals while also differentiating student learning preferences for each individual learner. More or less, Personalized Learning encompasses the ideals of Individualized and Differentiated Instruction to focus on the learning needs of a single student.
In a true Personalized Learning environment, each student establishes their own learning track by self-driving his or her own curriculum path, pace, methods, and goals.
The More You Know...
The three definitions are different, but that doesnt mean the three methods cannot work side-by-side with one another. The advent of digital learning resources and content has opened up the doors to personalizing, individualizing, and differentiating instruction, but it is still vital for the educator to gain that personal learning relationship with the student so that they can identify which instruction technique(s) best fit the needs of each student.