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Personalized Learning is NOT Differentiating Instruction

The term "Personalized Learning" is a buzz word educators use to be an alternative to "one size fits all" teaching. Unfortunately, the message is confusing. Ed.gov's archive as part of the National Technology Plan lays out the definition of Individualized, Personalized, and Differentiated Instruction:

Individualization refers to instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs. For example, students might take longer to progress through a given topic, skip topics that cover information they already know, or repeat topics they need more help on.

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them.

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).

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Personalized learning is NOT "Personalized Instruction."

Personalizing learning means...
  • students know how they learn so they are prepared for today and their future as global citizens.
  • students are co-learners and co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • students own and drive their learning.


Each learner is unique and learns in different ways. Differentiating instruction means that the teacher adapts the existing curriculum to meet the different needs of each student in their classroom. The teacher becomes the hardest working person in the classroom. Individualizing means that the teacher and textbook companies create multiple levels of curriculum to meet the different needs of all students. This means that you pay more to textbook companies to prepare the curriculum or you find multiple ways to teach a content area that meets the varied learning styles and reading levels in their classroom.

Differentiating and individualizing instruction is teacher-centric, grade-level, and standards-based. Teachers can use these techniques to present content. However, he student needs to be the hardest working people in the classroom. Teachers need to teach their students how to fish and not fish for them. In a personalized learning environment, the teacher doesn't have to be the only expert. The advantage of technology is that students can use the content and be the experts with their teacher. They can become experts on specific content areas, technology, and even create content.

Check out Mathtrain.tv where Eric Marcos realized that students learn best from other students." target="_blank">

Schools are using Khan Academy to personalize learning. Students are finding the resources and sharing them with each other. Students are flipping the classroom with their teachers. You can take university classes from MIT Open Courseware and Stanford is offering 15 free online courses.

Personalizing learning starts with the learner. It is not personalized instruction. The teacher, the school, and textbook companies can individualize instruction for the different types of learners. Personalized learning means the students drive their learning and the teacher IS the guide on the side, the co-designer of their learning, and more of a facilitator to make sure the students are meeting their learning goals.
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