Personalized learning is a new way to think about education, one that is more relevant and flexible so that it is responsive to and based on student learning needs. It shifts agency of learning to the student, meets the needs of our changing world and allows for shared accountability.

Download complementary vision statements from our Learning Pioneers: Mary Bush, John Boutcher, Kate Dusel.

What is personalized learning

The five key components

  • Competency-based
    Students advance at their own pace, moving the system away from “seat time” requirements and resulting in student mastery rather than social promotion.

  • Contextualized and relevant
    Learning is contextualized and relevant to individual students, resulting in greater individual engagement and student agency.

  • Flexible pathways
    Flexibility in location and delivery method allow for “anytime, anywhere” learning, resulting in students being able to tailor learning to their own needs, strengths and goals.

  • Learner agency
    Personalized learning allows for student choice and voice in their program of studies—including place, pace, methods of instruction and options to show competency—ensuring increased student engagement, understanding of the end goals of education, where they are in meeting those goals and pride of self and learning.

  • Socially embedded
    Students have opportunities to interact with and be mentored and supported by many members of society during their learning, resulting in better relationships, skills, dispositions and cultural acumen needed to grow socially, emotionally and academically.

The common misconceptions

  • Computers do not replace teachers. Personalized learning doesn’t simply mean putting kids in front of computers all day; rather, personalized learning incorporates digital and blended learning strategies into a modern approach. Computer programs create data—allowing teachers to access student learning and need.

  • It will not result in the loss of jobs. Personalized learning does not eliminate the need for certified classroom teachers; in fact, it can increase the capacity of teachers working to heighten student learning.

  • Standards remain. Personalized learning is not an educational “free-for-all” in which students can study whatever they want, free from accountability; it instead provides flexibility for students to focus on the areas where they need the most support while holding them to the same high standards.

  • Personalized doesn’t mean solo. Personalized learning does not mean that each teacher must create individual courses of study for all of their students; instead they can leverage and share each other’s work more easily. It also allows students to lead where they can.

  • It does not result in mixed-age classrooms. Personalized learning does not mean that we’ll eliminate age-span groupings and educate students of widely different levels of social-emotional maturity together. It does mean that we can collaborate and co-teach across content areas, helping meet the needs of all students.

Why we need it

Our world is changing—what people need to know and the skills they need to have in the 21st century are dramatically different from what they were in the 20th century. And yet our education system still reflects that 20th century model. We end up preparing students for yesterday’s world, not today’s and not tomorrow’s.

What’s more, we aren’t doing a good enough job of reaching all students in this traditional model. Teachers who are under-resourced are forced to design for the middle, resulting too often in a design that doesn’t fit most students. From this, we see too few students achieve at grade level in Rhode Island and many disengaged with school and their learning: Rhode Island has the highest absentee rate in all of New England. We have great teachers in our state who are differentiating instruction and supporting their students on an individual basis, but they shouldn’t have to do it in spite of the system. They need structural supports and reinforcements to make this work sustainable and scalable. This is where personalized learning comes in.

How to get there

  • Individualized Learning Plans
    Support Individualized Learning Plans by creating flexibility in the Carnegie Unit model (which favors class time as a measurement of learning) and grade-based progressions.

    Community schools
    Add wraparound services and adopt a community schools approach (where schools and community organizations partner more fluidly to deliver services for the whole child and not just the academic child), especially at the elementary school level.

    Teacher of record
    More clearly define—and potentially change the role of—the teacher from one of “knowledge imparter” to one of coach and mentor, allowing for more inter-disciplinary learning and including a shift in how we prepare, support and evaluate educators.

  • Scheduling
    Allow more flexibility in the school “bell schedule” and flexibility for outside-of-school-time learning, including potentially lengthening the school day or school year or the period arrangement of the school day.

    Shared accountability
    Shift from a teacher-centric accountability model to one of shared responsibility amongst all key stakeholders, potentially by reworking the school-level evaluation measures to feature student engagement, community connection and other metrics.

    Culture shift
    Create a culture and mindset shift within schools and outside of school with the community around what is possible for education in a new learning paradigm, including a strong knowledge campaign for teachers and parents around personalized learning.

First steps leaders can take

As teachers and schools move to a personalized-learning model, it’s important for states and districts to support our schools’ gradual work to shift to a new educational paradigm—allowing schools and teachers to adopt and expand personalized learning as they are ready.

  • State policy

    Adopt a universally accepted definition of personalized learning and each of its components.

    Create a state-controlled database of resources, searchable by content, standard, topic and competency level to allow teachers to share resources across classrooms, schools and districts.

    Support a broad fellowship of professional development and a district rollout that endorses all elements of personalized learning.

    Create two specific competitive statewide incentive funds to support:

    1. a) the creation of community schools by supporting site-coordinator positions and professional development for schools transitioning to the community-school model and
    2. b) a technology-incentive fund for districts to support increased adoption of hard and software.

    Local Funding
    Permit districts to raise their allowed annual budgetary increase in the short term to cover initial technology costs.

    Higher Ed
    Communicate regularly with higher education institutions and bring them along with K–12 schools on personalized learning. Incentivize and work with them as immediate change agents.

    Investigate the feasibility and efficacy of a statewide schedule for school start and end times and school year, as well as inter-district transportation options to allow learning outside of a student’s classroom.

  • District policy

    Provide a clear vision and direction for their districts, provide appropriate resources and professional development activities and ensure that teachers and families are empowered to be active leaders in strategizing and decision-making at the school level.

    Professional Development
    Support administrators’ and teachers’ personalized learning efforts through improved professional development for both, including allowing for micro-credentialing of skills, embedding professional development into the daily routine and enabling cross-classroom and cross-district mentorship and educator and administrator shadowing.

    Allow schools increasing budget and procurement flexibility as they move toward increased personalized learning.

    Pay and support substitute teachers more, in order to recruit the most highly capable substitutes possible.