Embracing a Buzzword: Personalized Learning

It’s in my nature to bristle at slogans and buzzwords. I’ve taught long enough to know that buzzwords are easy to toss around, much harder to understand, and nearly impossible to transform into effective change. So when I first heard the term “personalized learning”, I questioned it. Does it mean we cater to the whims of every child? Is it just another word for “blended learning? How is it different from the individualized education plans we write in special education?

While I still question the ways I hear the term used, even by many who style themselves as experts in personalized learning, I think I’ve clarified what it means for me, the extent that I am already using it, and how embracing the buzzword might help me move my program toward richer student gains.

Next year, my alternative graduation program (which was called the Late Afternoon School) will combine with another program to create a new entity that we call our Personalized Learning Program. So there – buzzword embraced.

We will use many of the structures of the Late Afternoon School, which were essentially basic building blocks of personalized learning, including:

  • Intake sessions that begin with student goal setting
  • Schedules and service delivery settings based on student needs, rather than a bell schedule and seat-time in a classroom
  • Focus on the development of relationships between staff and students
  • Tailored coursework that incorporates the student’s post-secondary transition goals
  • Options for alternative assessments to demonstrate competency in course standards

Some areas that I plan to improve on this year include:

  • Improved formative assessment to further tailor student coursework and assessment throughout the year
  • Increased student self-assessment and reflection
  • Competency based grading
  • Communicating our successes throughout the school and school system

I’m sure I’ll add to this list as I continue learning and I’ll post updates on my progress. Comments and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged below, as always.


4 thoughts on “Embracing a Buzzword: Personalized Learning

  1. Personalized learning is a very powerful tool for learning, because it includes the idea of choices – however, I share your skepticism in the buzzwords. My way around that is to clearly define what that word actually means in my instructional setting (used to make a classroom posters about those with students, to be sure everyone is on the same page). Sometimes “personalized learning” seems to mean that computer algorithm decides for the student what they need to learn, or what question comes next. There go the choices…

    Your building blocks for PL look very good. How about one more: blending formal and informal learning? https://notesfromnina.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/informal-learning-improves-the-learning-process/



    • Yes, I do think many people think of the computer algorithm making the choices for student learning, especially when we use blended learning, and that is one reason I shied away from the term before. Of course I use the data from my students’ online learning, but I think it’s important that a teacher who knows the student personally is the one who makes decisions instead of a computer.

      Also, thanks for sharing the link on informal learning. I think it’s one of the most useful parts of a successful personalized learning program, but also one of the hardest to define. Your post helps in that regard. I’m looking forward to following your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, time will be key. I’m fortunate to be given room for flexibility in my program but time for individual planning, grading and responding to each student in a timely way is essential to making this work.


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