What is the Difference Between Individualized Instruction and Personalized Learning?

Posted by Zack Blois on Nov 27, 2013 2:15:00 PM
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online_individulized_instructionAfter the response we received last week from the differentiated vs. personalized blog post, I wanted to finish our instruction methods differences saga up with a profile of the two other instruction ideals we often hear used to (incorrectly) describe the other: "individualized instruction" and "differentiated learning".

Educators use the terms “individualized” and “personalized” quite a bit when talking about providing unique learning experiences, but the terms are not interchangeable. These terms can be viewed as "two sides of the same coin", and though they work towards the same goal, they are certainly not the same.

Read below the break to see our explanation of the difference between individualized instruction and differentiated learning, and how these differences (and a few overlaps) relate to your classroom and curriculum.

Individualized instruction

Individualized instruction is all about pacing (curriculum pace, learning pace, etc.).

Chances are, your students are probably responsible for showing mastery and understanding of a set of state learning standards. However, students simply do not all learn at the same pace. Some enter our classrooms with significant learning gaps, whether it be needed reinforcement or enrichment, that must be recognized and addressed before they can progress through the curriculum.

Individualized instruction is an effort to let those students work at their own pace while keeping a general set of learning goals for the entire class. If done correctly, the idea is that a greater number of students will "meet" standards and progress because the disparity between pace and learning levels has been individually addressed, both in efforts to increase student engagement and reduce student frustration.

  • Here is a very basic example of individualized instruction: "Johnny and Jane are learning the concept of equivalent fractions in the same math classroom. Johnny has struggled with the idea a bit and requires a reteaching of the concept. Jane "gets it" and requires a more challenging set of problems.

    This process happens simultaneously within the classroom (and/or a smaller groups) to allow each student to learn at their own pace, while also striving toward the same goal of equivalent fractions mastery.

Personalized learning

Personalized learning, on the other hand, not only tailors instruction to the pace to the student, but also the student's learning goals, interests, and methods.

The process encompasses the best elements of individualized instruction and differentiated learning to meet the student where he/she is, and let him/her drive the learning. If done correctly, you have greater student engagement with the material because they are dictating the instruction based on their interests and personal learning goals/needs.

Take note that the learning goals are set per student, not per classroom or school. Some might say an ideal school or classroom setting is needed to achieve this student-centered learning environment (one where learning standards need not apply). Read on to see why I don't totally agree with that notion.

The "ideal" of personalized learning

On the surface, individualized learning probably seems like the much more feasible and ideal instruction method for your classroom (especially if your curriculum ascribes to a set list of learning standards).

However, I interpret the idea of "personalized learning" as an ideal on its own. It is a learning strategy that requires constant student and educator effort and tweaking, i.e. you cannot lay out a curriculum before the year that is tailored to each student. Instead, a personalized learning curriculum changes throughout the year, depending on the student's individual learning needs and preferences.

If you feel like a personalized learning environment is simply unattainable in your classroom, my advice is to incorporate the elements of individualized instruction and differentiated instruction to get as close as you possibly can to a personalized setting (whether that be via group rotation, one-to-one, varied modalities, real-world application, RTI models, blended learning, etc.).

The main goal is to ensure each student's learning needs are met, and on paper, personalized learning seems to do just that. If that is your instruction goal, then your teaching will most likely be on the right track to making sure that your student's time in, and outside, your classroom is worthwhile and well spent.

Carry on the conversation!

The instruction methods conversion certainly does not end here! If you're reading this blog post, chances are you have pretty strong opinions about individualized, differentiated, and personalized. We'd love to hear what you think.

Strike up a conversation with the Wowzers team on our Facebook Page or Tweet us at @Wowzers.


Bonus personalized learning resources from the Wowzers Team!

Click here to download the blended learning eBook


Topics: Personalized Learning

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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