In recent years, the term ‘personalised learning’ has become synonymous with software programs.
There’s a simple reason why that’s the case. Many of the schools pioneering the personalised learning approach, such as the Summit Public Schools in California, rely on software to guide children through the syllabus.
But it hasn’t always been so. The definition of ‘personalised learning’ is actually quite broad. Software definitely has a part to play, but it can encompass a range of activities - as long as they’re all based on the same core principals.
The Office of Education Technology in the US has examined a range of different approaches to personalised learning. They’ve narrowed the most common core principals down to just five simple points.
- The pace of learning is adjusted
- Learning objectives, approaches, content, and tools are tailored and optimized for each learner
- Learning is driven by learner interests
- Learners are given choice in what, how, when, and where they learn
- Learning is often supported by technology
There are some pioneering schools that have completely done away with the traditional classroom model in favour of fully personalised learning. In these classrooms, there are no ‘lessons’. Kids work at their own pace on computers while the teacher comes around to guide and assist their progress.
So far, the research on many of these schools indicates that their experiment is proving successful. Test scores and rankings show definite improvement, particularly among younger children.
That’s all great news, and confirms what many teachers have known for years – that individually focused teaching delivers better results.
However, most schools are not personalised learning pioneers. Most schools have to operate within a system that’s often inflexible and always under-resourced.
That’s no reason to give up, though! In fact, even within the traditional school system, teachers have been using many different personalised learning strategies for years.
Personalised learning has been going on for much longer than computers have been around, after all.
So, teachers on a budget, take heart! Here are five ways you can introduce personalised learning into your classroom - without your school signing an expensive learning software contract.
1. Start with an individual learning plan
An individual learning plan is an essential part of personalised learning. It’s co-written by students and teachers so that kids are given ownership over their own learning. The plan is tailored to each student and sets targets that are suitable for their level. A plan can include short and long-term goals, milestones and opportunities for feedback and assessment. See here for a helpful guide on how to develop one.
2. Encourage peer-to-peer assessment and group projects
Students can learn a lot from one another. Evaluating and giving feedback on each others' projects can teach a student a lot about their own process, and helps them to learn self-assessment and communication skills. By delegating tasks and organising group work, students learn to be autonomous about their learning process.
3. Give students more choices (but not too much!)
Giving students agency over how they deliver assessments or reach their goals can be incredibly powerful in helping them discover their own interests. For example, you can give them the option to complete an assessment as a video, storyboard or a piece of writing. However, it’s important to give students choices within a framework of standards and objectives. Too much choice can actually be paralysing.
4. Introduce personal reflection and emotional intelligence
As children grow up, it’s the capacity to self-reflect and regulate their own emotions that will help them make crucial decisions in their life and learning. There are many different ways to incorporate self-reflection into the assessment process, such as getting students to engage in some structure journaling.
Similarly, there are a lot of different approaches to developing emotional competency. It’s up to you to choose the right fit for your classroom. One personalised learning teacher, for example, practices the ‘Zones of Regulation’ strategy, which was originally developed for kids with autism.