By Ren Downing

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Learning is a fluid activity—no student learns the same way or at the same pace. With personalised learning, each student is provided a learning journey that tailors to their needs and interests.

You may have heard about the zone of proximal development; where every individual has a range of abilities that they can attain with assistance. Such skills are considered proximal as the individual needs guidance and nurture to develop the capability to perform these skills on their own.

And the best way to teach these skills? Through a personalised learning environment.

What is Personalised Learning?

Personalised learning, like its close cousin, individualised learning, is a student centred approach to education, where classroom practices begin from the understanding that students all learn differently and are always at a different point in their learning journey to their peers. To adequately support each student on their learning journey, the element of personalisation is vital.

When talking about personalised learning, it’s important not to get mixed up with learning plans for special needs, although these learning plans are often enhanced by a strong understanding of personalised learning. 

The foundation of personalised learning lies in putting the student first. From there, the customisation starts, taking into account the student’s strengths, opportunities, skills, and interests while also privileging student voice and choice.

One size does not fit all and that is exactly what personalised learning recognises. In an ideal personalised learning environment, instead of taking the students through all the same lessons, the teacher acts as a guide to assist each student on their individual learning journey. Although students may learn at different paces, with the teacher’s guidance, they will still be on track to meet the standards required to reach a particular level or certificate.

And personalised learning does not forget the need for further support and accessible learning strategies for those students that are in need of such accommodations. Because only then will you be able to achieve active engagement with all students.

Common barriers to personalised learning

It does take time to properly roll out personalised learning, which could be one of the reasons why it is not executed well in every school. With online platforms like Learning Management Systems (LMS) and School Portals, you can break down the barriers that could prevent the classroom from becoming personalised.

Some of the common barriers to providing personalised learning initiatives are:

  • Difficulties with data integration amongst the school’s IT systems.
  • Achieving a balance between competency-based practices and meeting grade-level standards.
  • Teacher training and familiarity with running personalised learning plans.
  • The notorious friend and enemy—time—to develop and implement personalised learning plans in accordance with the needs of students.

Personalised learning is in its infancy; there is a lot more schools can do to ensure students are provided valuable learning opportunities that enable them to realise their potential.

Reasons to Invest in Personalised Learning

It’s not rocket science—when you’re interested and invested in something, you will engage and excel. So, it only makes sense that, when the learning needs of a student are driven by their passions, interests, and aspirations; they will see positive results from their learning endeavours.

Empowering student voice and student choice

An important reason to invest in personalised learning is that it empowers students to take responsibility for their learning. To do this, you need to provide an avenue for students to voice their preferences and give them options, that is choices, in how they learn and showcase their learning. Find out what your students are interested in; ask them how they like to receive information, how they want to express themselves and how they prefer to engage with learning materials.

The role of the teacher is to be a guide, to assist the student to achieve their learning objectives. But, it is the student who selects their method or path to get there.

Higher student engagement

With personalised learning comes higher student engagement. By addressing the different interests of students, you will enhance and improve student engagement. With higher engagement, your students will spend more time learning and actually absorb the material. What more could you want as a teacher?

Greater engagement also leads to high levels of motivation within students. As they have a level of choice in the learning path they take, this sense of ownership will propel students to become invested in their learning journey.

This motivation will prevent distractions, disengagement from learning materials, and overall poor performance in their studies.

Increased productivity

Personalised learning also leads to increased productivity. By understanding the needs of each student, you can target the areas that require focus. This means material that is already familiar can be skipped and more time is spent on those topics and areas that are proving to be challenging.

By delivering content as students need it, there is greater efficiency in the learning journey which provides teachers and students the opportunity to invest in areas that require attention.

Examples of Personalised Learning 

Personalisation doesn’t have to be complicated, it could be as simple as giving students more than one choice in an assessment activity. But it can also be something more substantial, like giving your young learners the choice of their individual learning path. Take a look at some examples below.

Inquiry-based learning

This example of personalised learning is about involving the learner in the discovery phase of learning, by placing responsibility for learning directly into their hands. Instead of telling students what they need to know, inquiry-based learning encourages students to think about what they want to know and evoke their curiosity.

Personalised learning projects

With personalised learning you can empower your students to lead and define their own learning projects. With an online learning platform, you can keep track of the projects per student and provide timely reports to families and the wider school community.

Within an LMS, for example, students can create their own task description and allocate their own resources. If you want to take it a step further, students can also be provided the opportunity to create their very own assessment criteria with rubrics.

Shift responsibility with formative assessments

Formative assessments are infamous for being rigid—if you want an example of a strict one size fits all approach, there is no better example than formative assessment.

To provide a personalised approach, give your students the opportunity to assess themselves, maybe even assess their peers. By shifting the learning responsibility to the learner, you will start to see a strong connection between the task and the learner. Online platforms can make this process easy by way of self-assessment options and peer-to-peer review.

There is a lot of value that personalised learning can offer your students. However, there is a balance that needs to be achieved with time constraints and sufficient teacher training. Online platforms can greatly assist with rolling out personalised learning and ensuring your students are provided with valuable learning opportunities.

Are you interested in learning more about personalised learning for your school? Chat to a Schoolbox consultant today.

Ren Downing is an English and History teacher with a passion for creating integrated, holistic learning opportunities that are accessible to all. Education theory and eLearning tools are his speciality and education research is his pastime.

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