Personalized learning directly affects the daily routine of you and your students, but often parents are out of the loop when it comes to its purpose and benefits in the classroom.
Below is a simple guide that you can follow when explaining personalized learning to parents.
What is personalized learning, and why do we need it?
Personalized learning is education’s answer to the ever-changing needs of diverse student populations, who enter school with different learning styles, challenges (such as language barriers or disabilities), and academic strengths and weaknesses.
It accounts for all those areas and more. Personalized learning essentially means supporting students with lesson options and resources that better accommodate their needs. It helps students succeed by allowing them to learn in the best ways and pace for them.
By better understanding students’ individual needs, educators can better assess their performance at any stage and what changes could be made to help them thrive.
Top parent takeaway: Tell parents that personalized learning is a student-first approach to education that will support their child’s needs and help them succeed academically.
How is personalized learning used in the classroom?
Personalized learning might make sense in theory, but how does it work in practice — in the actual classroom? You can think of personalized learning in two basic parts: the student and the learning.
Each student comes to the classroom with a different academic background. One student may be more prepared than another, based on factors like past classes they’ve taken; their grade performance and study style; emotional, mental, or physical needs; and their own personal feelings toward the subject, to name a few.
With personalized learning, educators make use of a flexible learning environment — one that’s more supportive of each student’s needs. Basically, they set up the classroom so that everything — from the use of space to resources and time, the lesson activities and learning experience, and the ways of assessing students’ mastery and progression — is as accommodating as possible. Often this involves incorporating digital tools and multimedia and promoting skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Learning is “student-centered,” which means they make choices in how they proceed and demonstrate what they know based on their interests and the manner in which they learn best.
For example, with Classcraft Quests for personalized learning, teachers overlay their existing lessons onto fictional, interactive “game maps.” Students explore the maps (and, if the teacher wants, a story they’ve created) by essentially completing learning goals or activities. But with personalized learning, instead of the only choice being to turn in a written assignment, students could choose to watch a video, complete a worksheet, write a story or song, create a mini-movie, etc, to show their understanding. In Quests, this can be set up through branching paths on the map.
Students who successfully grasp the lessons can move ahead to the next “quest” (ie., lesson) objective while those that need more time with a concept can be directed to further activities that will help. Teachers can also easily monitor how students are faring in the Quests Progress Center, which lets them see which students are struggling and direct energy to helping them.
This way, students can progress at their own pace, get individualized support, and “own” their learning.
Top parent takeaway: Parents need to understand that personalized learning works for all students, regardless of skill level, and enables them to progress at their own pace. Above average students can move ahead to the next challenge, and below average students receive the extra support they need.
What does research say about personalized learning?
In 2015, a study from the RAND Corporation, titled “Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning,” examined student achievement across 62 schools that used personalized learning.
The researchers found that “compared to peers, students in schools using personalized learning practices are making greater progress over the course of two school years, and that those students who started out behind are catching up to perform at or above national averages.” This particularly includes growth in mathematics and reading.
A more recent study from RAND concluded that “new evidence continues to suggest that personalized learning holds promise as an innovation that can lead to improved educational outcomes for students,” though “implementers should have modest expectations for the magnitude of the benefits, and patience for the full benefits to emerge.” And despite the difference in the studies and their findings regarding achievement results, personalized learning was still found to have a positive impact on mathematics and reading.
As RAND says, the big picture about personalized learning is indeed an “encouraging” one.
Top parent takeaway: Personalized learning as a technique has its challenges for educators, but overall it shows promising results and potential in the classroom.