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Five questions you need to ask about personalized learning

10 ways educators can implement Google Docs for learners in their classrooms

Why is personalized learning becoming increasingly desirable in K-12? Each learner has a unique story and responds to different teaching methods. Educators and parents alike have noted that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is falling short for many learners.

Positive early evidence has stakeholders throughout school systems worldwide convinced that this student-centered approach can help more learners reach their full potential. If you are curious about what personalized learning can offer your students, here are the answers to important questions you may be asking.

What exactly is personalized learning?

Personalized learning refers to educational approaches that customize instruction to fit the needs, strengths and interests of the individual learner. Encouraging high achievement in the areas that most fascinate a student is the keystone of personalized learning. 

Definition of personalized learning 

There is no one definition of personalized learning. The education field has yet to agree on how to define it. The very nature of personalized learning defies definition. One key objective of personalized learning, as well as for heutagogy, is engaged, proactive individuals who understand how to learn.

Here is how the Department of Education defined it: 

Personalizing learning content + customizing the pace to individual learners individualization  +  tailoring instructional methods differentiation = personalized learning.

Qualities of personalized learning 

Common elements include a flexible learning environment, collaboration, individualized learning paths and hands-on experiences. Personal interests and each learner’s innate curiosity weigh heavily in the world of personalized learning, explains Dale Basye

In an ISTE article, he clarifies that education is not something imposed on a learner in personalized learning. It occurs as an outcome of what a student is doing. Basye also notes that along with method and pace of learning, in a personalized learning environment, a student’s academic goals, content and curriculum are all variables.

All this may sound too nebulous to school leaders responsible for ensuring that standards and important achievement goals are met for the learners in their charge. Yet there’s a method behind what may seem madness. 

Why should your school make the shift toward learner-centered education? 

School systems leaders like those in Wisconsin are seeing that structuring all these variables is not only possible but advantageous. They go so far as to say personalized learning is creating systemic shifts in the way teachers educate students while transforming how students now learn. In many ways, it’s poised to change the educational landscape throughout the world.

The limits of one-size-fits-all education 

Traditional teacher-centered instruction may have functioned in the age of mass industrialization. Today’s world, however, calls for balanced, innovative and self-motivated people.

In a study conducted on behalf of the Alliance for Excellent Education, 79 percent of the parents surveyed, who were from underserved communities, expressed concern that one-size-fits-all education was short-changing their children. An equal percentage noted that what was being taught in school didn’t align with the real-world skills and knowledge their children need for future success.

Positive outcomes can be expected from learner-centered education

Personalizing learning in schools has shown improved engagement, motivation and achievement for students at all achievement levels. A study from 2014 correlated personalized learning plans with increased motivation, sense of belonging and connectedness to school.

Early evidence shows that students in personalized learning environments made significant advances in both math and reading scores. Especially notable was that a student-centered approach positively affected how children learned and retained their knowledge at all levels of achievement. 

How do you implement personalized learning in the classroom?

Taking the first steps with personalized learning doesn’t have to be difficult. Many activities that educators are already facilitating, such as passion projects, virtual field trips and student blogging, are examples of personalized learning. Depending on the developmental level, such learning experiences should have an underlying significance or build toward a student-defined objective or state standard. 

Personalized learning core elements 

A helpful framework developed by the Institute for Personalized Learning follows a honeycomb model with three essential components at the core. Some school systems weave them together to create a road map for learners. 

  1. Learner profiles
  2. Proficiency-based progress 
  3. Customized learning paths

Learner profiles

A learner profile provides a more complete picture of who a student is and where they are currently in their learning journey. These profiles, also known as personalized learning plans, extend beyond pure data found in test scores. They make it easier for educators to understand how to best support students and how to cocreate a learning path together. 

Proficiency-based progress 

Through proficiency-based progress, students develop mastery of skills at a pace and in ways that best suit them. Students may choose:

  • Sequence and standards-aligned content and skills to learn
  • Methods and resources employed
  • How they demonstrate their learning

Customized learning paths

Moving along their customized learning path, students reach the necessary milestones on the trajectory toward their desired destination. They co-design their learning paths with educators. Students take greater ownership of their learning and find deeper meaning than when they must comply with the expectations of adults.

What are key strategies for scaling personalized learning? 

Personalized learning has been around for centuries in the form of apprenticeships and tutoring. Yet making it work for large groups of learners in a school setting has been an ongoing challenge. The recent availability of technology to schools has been instrumental in being able to scale this learning method.

Using educational technology as an instructional tool

Educational technology is one of the instructional tools used to facilitate personalized learning in schools. Hāpara is a tool many teachers recommend because it simplifies the entire personalized learning process. 

How to personalize learning with Hāpara

To begin with, learner profiles and cocreating personalized learning paths is easy with Hāpara Workspace. An educator can guide students in developing their personal learning goals in the first Workspace column and support them in creating their planning cards. These planning cards signify clear action steps toward greater milestones on a student’s unique learning journey. 

With this card system, Workspace allows teachers to assign specific materials, activities or assignments geared toward each learner’s needs, interests and aptitudes. Differentiation can be done at the individual level or with student groups of any size. 

Through Hāpara Highlights, teachers can personalize digital citizenship support. Highlights allows for this with guided browsing and messaging at the individual or group level.

How can my students succeed with personalized learning? 

School and district leaders interested in this approach can examine effective practices that are working in successful personalized learning programs. Most successful programs have systems in place that help tailor instruction to an individual’s needs, skills and interests. For students to excel, the system the school is using must be easy to use for educators.

Align learning standards to student objectives

Another element found in programs that work are approaches that offer students a large variety of learning experiences. These are designed to help prepare students for higher education and careers aligned with their interests.

Teachers who use Hāpara Workspace cannot only give students options for resources, they can even allow them to upload resources they chose. Additionally, links to many other applications can be easily embedded into Workspace.

Taking into account student-elected achievement objectives, personalized learning programs also focus on big-picture standards. Educators can provide an underlying aim of deepening and accelerating student learning. 

Help students measure progress and demonstrate mastery

One way to personalize learning and empower students to take ownership of their learning is to give students choice and voice in their experience. They can choose how to demonstrate their mastery of a learning milestone. Hāpara supports individualized forms of nontraditional assessments to show student learning.

Students can be encouraged to explore a variety of options to demonstrate their understanding of what they are learning. They can choose one that fits them, whether that’s writing a story, creating a performance, a podcast or video.

Throughout the learning process, teachers can use Teacher Dashboard to give timely personalized feedback to support students. This Hāpara tool supports real-time communication in Google Docs, Google Slides and other applications

Make learning flexible

In order for students to succeed and graduate, they need to complete the required assignments. This can be a challenge for some learners. Instead of letting them fall through the cracks, schools can build in supports that give them more options for meeting learning objectives in a way that works for them. 

Workspace allows for incredible flexibility, notes outreach school director, Robert Reid. Educators like Reid have discovered that they can offer students the pacing that suits them whether they are in traditional or alternative educational settings. 

Key takeaways

✔️ Personalizing learning helps meet each learner’s unique needs and has been shown to improve engagement, motivation and achievement.  

✔️ Digital tools used in an intentional manner can create a sustainable structure for students to learn independently and take ownership of their learning.

✔️ Getting started with personalized learning is easy, and many teachers are already doing learner-centered activities with their students. 

✔️ Personalized learning paths are a proven method for helping students gain important aptitudes, skills and knowledge that are necessary in a rapidly changing world.

✔️ Hāpara tools are being used in schools around the world to help teachers manage the different aspects of personalized learning with their students.

Learn what to focus on when building a culture of digital citizenship, including conversation starters for learners and educators!

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