The basic concept of personalized learning (PL) — instruction that is focused on meeting students' individual learning needs while incorporating their interests and preferences — has been a longstanding practice in U.S. K–12 education. Options for personalization have increased as personal computing devices have become increasingly affordable and available in schools and developers created software to support individual student learning. In recent years, it has become more common for schools to embrace schoolwide models of PL.
This study collected data from schools in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)'s Breakthrough School Models program. Our study seeks to describe the practices and strategies these schools used to implement PL, understand some of the challenges and facilitators, and consider these alongside achievement findings to discern patterns that may be informative.
Teachers and students reported higher levels of many aspects of personalization than their counterparts in a national sample. These included time for one-on-one tailored support for learning; using up-to-date information on student progress to personalize instruction and group students; students tracking their own progress; competency-based practices; and flexible use of staff, space, and time. However, some more-difficult-to-implement aspects did not appear to differ from practices in schools nationally, such as student discussions with teachers on progress and goals; keeping up-to-date documentation of student strengths, weaknesses, and goals; and student choice of topics and materials.
The authors estimate study students gained about 3 percentile points in mathematics relative to a comparison group of similar students. In reading, there was a similar trend, though it was not statistically significant. Low-performing and high-performing students appeared to benefit.
- Schools in the NGLC sample were pursuing a wide variety of practices to focus on the learning needs of each individual student in a supportive and flexible way.
- Schools were implementing specific PL approaches to varying degrees, with none of the schools looking as radically different from traditional schools as theory might predict.
- There is suggestive evidence that greater implementation of PL practices may be related to more-positive effects on achievement; however, this finding requires confirmation through further research.