10 Ways to Personalize Learning

Adisack Nhouyvanisvong
“Personalized learning” – that’s quite a loaded phrase. But, if you break down the two words, you can see that when simplified its better understood as a “personal” way to “learn.” Thus, personalized learning is student centered. It’s an educational approach where the learner (i.e., the student) drives their own learning.
Personalized learning is when the learner takes responsibility for their learning by setting appropriate goals that align with their interests and talents. They monitor progress and stay motivated and challenged to meet those goals.
For educators who want to focus on the learner, here are 10 tips to help you personalize learning for students.
1. Set personal learning plans. This is what drives personalized learning. Students must set personal plans and goals that are aligned with their interests, talents and passions. Without clear and specific personal goals, there can be no personalized learning. Encourage students to set these goals, monitor progress towards the goals, and modify or set new goals as appropriate.
2. Encourage self-assessment. Give students opportunities to assess their own learning through self-reflection exercises. This is a great way for students to develop metacognitive, as well as cognitive skills.
3. Conduct frequent formative assessment. Assess students frequently. But assess them FOR their learning and AS they learn. Don’t primarily give assessments of what they have already learned. As you conduct more assessments FOR learning, you’ll be able to more effectively personalize learning for the student.
4. Use project-based learning. Give students personal choice and opportunities to pursue learning that reflects their personal interests.
5. Introduce “Student Voice.” Encourage input from students on instructional decisions and materials. Give them a voice to express their values, opinions and beliefs. This will lead to a more diverse and richer set of instructional materials that will help you personalize learning. Getting Smart recently practiced this tip with Advancing Leadership Youth.
6. Increase parent involvement. Encourage parents to take an active role in their students’ education. Meet and communicate with them more regularly to allow them to take personal responsibility to ensure that their students are learning successfully.
7. Offer more learning pathways. Give students easy and more choices to personalize their learning through alternative learning pathways. Offer career-related internships or dual-enrollment opportunities to students.
8. Switch to standards-based grading and reporting. In a personalized learning system, students demonstrate mastery or competency on the goals and standards that they have set for themselves. So evaluate students based on mastery of specific learning targets or objectives, not on whether they’ve “completed” the assignment or the amount of time they were “in their seat.”
9. Utilize digital tools. Many of the tips above can be aided by use of inexpensive (and often free!) digital tools. Personalized learning is supported by engaging blended learning environments. Combine the best face-to-face instruction with digital tools to be more efficient and effective as an educator.
10. Teach digital literacy. As 21st century students in a personalized learning environment, students must have the skills to collaborate, share, learn and connect with their teachers and peers. Make sure your students have the requisite digital literacy skills to create and stay connected with their learning network.
In 2010, I founded Naiku, a next generation assessment platform that integrates new technology and assessment techniques to help teachers know more about their students. So tips 9 and 10 above have special relevance to me. I believe that educational technology and digital literacy can accelerate personalized learning for students. I believe that for 21st century students and teachers to be successful in their learning and teaching, they must embrace new technologies to develop digitally literacy as shifts digital learning continue.
With next generation classroom assessment platforms, teachers engage students in better assessment practices that promote students to take ownership of their learning. Such technology allows teachers to conduct frequent formative assessments (tip 3). It also gives students the opportunity to practice setting goals (tip 1) and self-assessments (tip 2). For example, before students take next-gen assessments, they have the option and are encouraged to set goals and expectations for the class. When they take the assessment, they are asked to rate their confidence in each answer they provide. Additionally, they can write and journal about their answer to provide justification and/or additional feedback to their teacher.
After finishing a test, students receive immediate results. While reviewing said results, students can be asked to reflect on their performance, both on the test overall as well as on each question. In addition to providing the teacher with deeper insight into student performance, self-assessment exercises provides students the opportunity to reconcile their prediction with their actual performance on the question, a metacognitive process that has been found to improve student learning and retention of knowledge. And that is what personalized learning is all about, getting students to take ownership of their learning and to continue to strive to learn more.
For more on personalized learning, see:

adisack-nhouyvanisvongAdisack Nhouyvanisvong, Ph.D. is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and is the Co-founder of the Minnesota based, Naiku, Inc. The firm specializes in supporting districts with their transition to next generation online student assessment.

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