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The 7 Lenses of Personalized Learning

The 7 Lenses of Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning: What is it?

As we look towards the future to find new methods and pedagogies, one, in particular, has shown promise – personalized learning. In strong contrast to traditional instructional methods, this approach shifts focus away from the content and onto the student.


With initiatives internationally, personalized learning could prove to be the next step in the world of education, but what exactly does that mean?

The United States Department of Education defines it as:

"Instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) all may vary based on learner needs. In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated."

This initiative seems like an intuitive choice for progress. In a 2018 survey by Education Week Research Center, more than half of educators saw personalized learning as a positive step forward.


Still, there are many points for and against personalized learning that shed light on the complexity of this method. Not only can it prove difficult to model on a vast scale, but there is also contention inside the community of supporters.

Approaches to Personalized Learning

Traditionally, we see two modes of thought by those who support personalized learning. In both cases, there will be consistencies, such as requiring technology that can provide adaptive adjustments and feedback to each student.


The first, focusing on the traditional hierarchies of education, is what some have termed the Engineering Model. This philosophy, dating back to the 1950s with research from psychologist B.F. Skinner does allow for a student focus. However, there is still a strong preference for having experts map out the needs of each child in what they should learn.


As opposed to the Progressive Model, we see a complete transition into student passions and interests. Here, teachers allow students to explore their educational frontiers based on what they find most intriguing at the time. With foundations in the progressive mind of John Dewey, it has a lot in common with other progressive forms of education.


It is easy to see that both models have the same fundamental structure. Still, their differences raise significant questions regarding measurements of success, instructional methods, and the intensity of technological integrations.

From here, several specific methods can be helpful in both models.


Competency-Based Progression. This method is akin to the system we have in schools today. However, instead of progressing by passing grades, students can move forward based on their skills, knowledge, and mindsets. Since it provides both adaptive and continuous learning, students will be able to move at varying paces with fewer structural changes to what our current system provides.


Similar to competency-based progression, learning Paths provide expertly crafted paths that students will explore and progress through.


Like report cards, learner profiles provide up-to-date records on how students are doing in a class as they progress, along with different subjects and course materials. Keeping progress in this way allows students to make adjustments long before receiving grades with their report cards. This step will also make it easy for students to build individualized competencies.


Flexible Learning Environments look to make the most significant changes to traditional education. These environments require shifts away from convention in mindset, classroom setup, schedules, and teacher training.

Why Now?

"Personalized learning is a way to actually enact the pedagogy we believe in and that kids thrive in." Dianne Tavenner, founder of Summer Public Schools – California - EdWeek.


Personalized learning has only begun to garner a vast support network over the past decade through significant investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg, and the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama.


But with foundations that are decades old and broad support – some may ask why has it only become popular in the past decade or so? The reason is twofold.

The first is the technological advancements that have rapidly changed the world. For example, providing an individualized space for students on a grand scale is nearly impossible without a digital interface providing real-time feedback and progression.


With dependable internet and devices, we have seen a shift in our social landscape as well. Fast-changing modernity pushes us to see the world anew. As skills like creativity, teamwork and other soft skills become highly salient to employers, learning is just as important as what students learn in the classroom.

And, as we will discover through our Seven Lenses, there are both upsides and downsides to the future of personalized learning.


Lens 1: Teacher Role in the Classroom

Creative integration of technology cannot replace the role of the teacher in the classroom.


The deviation from traditional methods would move the teacher from lecturer and amplify their duties elsewhere. And though technology can aid in feedback, scaffolding, and other general tasks, it will still be their job to support, guide, and support student collaboration.


Calling for a different set of skills to guide the classroom correctly emphasizes the importance of communicating what changes will come. Unfortunately, this means that there may often be several barriers to implementing personalized learning as a central component of a modern classroom.


As reported by Education Element, misalignment of expectations has shown to be a constant difficulty in their district partnerships. And though the generalized statements about personalized learning can prove motivating, they don't give teachers the structure they need to help their students succeed in this unfamiliar environment.


The change will have to come from the ground up as we incorporate new values into everyday life with a culture of engagement, transparency, and trust. Additionally, it would be wise to expect teacher reskilling as the needed competencies would change alongside a personalized mindset.

Lens 2: Measures of Success

Traditionally, standardization has provided the structure to student's growth. This rigid system, though not ideal, has done one thing well – ensure there is an objective route to develop what is universally accepted.


Assessment may prove to be the biggest obstacle for personalized learning platforms. Incorporating soft skills will require nuance that is not as universal as standardization. Some of these measures include academic skills, student relationships, creativity measures, along with numerous others.


One solution was pointed to earlier with competency-based progress. One of the most in-depth developments of this type of system is by ESCO (European Skills, Competences, Qualifications, and Occupations). With a hierarchy of over 13,000 skills and competencies, concepts like these can prove to be fundamental to future educational change.


If executed well, students may be able to present themselves in a complete picture that ranges beyond just grades and extracurriculars. And, more importantly, provide guided routes that can help future citizens and employees develop the skills that will be essential as we head into the mid-21st century.

Finding suitable measures at all levels will require collaboration between schools, employers, and government to realize them in the long run.

Lens 3: Student Achievement, Engagement, and Lifelong Learning

One of the benefits that is stated over and over is the agency that personalized learning can give students of all ages. Not only does this improve the potential for interest in the classroom, but the responsibility allows for a future of flourishment in college, citizenship, and employment.


Flowing a personalized plan will allow students to find deepened engagement in the work they produce. And this will come in the form of both independent and collaborative work.


While the students make connections that matter to them throughout their day, they will learn more than just the subject. Personalized learning has incorporated reflective aspects that will help students develop metacognitive abilities and learning self-awareness. Both prove essential in our adult lives, especially as we head further into the 21st century.


The fast-paced growth of information today will only continue to make mastery challenging to achieve. However, this does not mean we should abandon specialization altogether. On the contrary, one of the best investments will be creating a student population of lifelong learners who understand themselves and can more accurately judge their strengths and weaknesses.


For many students, following curiosity and passion will make learning a more natural part of their lives. But it may not be suitable for all students. Especially in special education, difficulties with executive task management may arise, which implies that individualization will need quality attention.

Lens 4: Student-Centered Environment

Moving to a personalized learning environment means that the classroom focus will be on the needs and passions of the students. Alongside increased engagement, this allows for a prosperous relationship between the student and the teacher. Moving away from traditional lectures, we can see numerous avenues for connection opening up.


Project-Based Learning is one of them. In this case scenario, students will explore a wide range of research areas that are important to them, allowing their true selves to shine. In addition, these projects can enable the teacher to see students holistically rather than just in relation to the subject material.


And since students will require personalized attention, teachers will have the ability to spend more one-on-one time with students. This attention can prove crucial, especially in students who wouldn't traditionally be considered "average." In many conditions, the stress of keeping pace with the rest of the class will be reduced.


Lens 5: Data-Driven Decisions

Big data seems to be a catch-all in many domains, and education is no different. However, personalized learning would bring new decision-making capabilities into the classroom on the micro and macro scales with further technological integration.


Students will see what's available to them on more occasions than with a quarterly report card. The near-instantaneous feedback means that scaffolding will be more diverse. It will also mean data-driven problem-solving and decision making.


As with any big data case, there comes the realm of concerns over privacy. In addition, it raises questions about how this data could be misused and what impact it could have on students, families, and educators.

Lens 6: Technological Integrations


Another 2018 survey by Education Week has found three areas of concern for principals across the nation in the trend for personalized education.

  1. 85% expressed that it is leading to too much screen time.

  2. 77% believed students were working alone too often.

  3. And 67% believe the technology industry is gaining too much influence over public education.

The first two problems are essential, but the third is uniquely tied to personalized learning. Thus, a deeper look could have implications on policy, standardization, and a bias in how schools develop the future workforce.


And though technology would only be complementary to the teacher, it also raises questions around what integrations would be necessary for schools. Another problem we may see is in it's cost which may negate some of the equity that it could provide students.


Such structural changes do provide numerous positives, however.

Primarily, it provides teachers an aid that can assist in feedback, forming similarly skilled student groups, student collaboration, and creation. In addition, these tools offer many metrics and representations that would be too cumbersome with paper and pen alone.


For students, we also see improvements when it comes to subject mastery and student agency. Compared to the teaching aids, the other side of technology can help students identify where they need to map the known and explore the unknown. Technology can provide a common platform for teachers, students, and families to create a unified interactive interface.


Lens 7: Rollout Difficulty

When adopting personalized learning as a primary function in the classroom, the difficulty is an inevitable obstacle. It calls for an in-depth transformation in daily structures and routines, which requires a perspective shift from everyone involved in the process.


Since many people can have strong assumptions about what personalized learning would mean for their students, communication is critical. When overlooked, it was noted by Education Element that rollout can cause several issues.


A lack of clear vision can lead to conflicting experiences in the press and within the school. First, providing clarity is essential to ensure that teachers can align to new expectations inside the classroom. Secondly, this allows the press, board, and families to understand what students expect and its implications on their learning ability and future.


What's crucial is the ability to build the communicative capacity within the school as well. This capacity-building ensures that when the consultants are no longer involved, educators can still uphold the values and vision that they set out to achieve in the long run.


Final Thoughts

Personalized learning holds the potential to change the face of education. Its ability to individualize the experience and provide each student with something unique is what they deserve. Along with its improved ability to open horizons of new skills and interests, it can serve a fundamental function as we move deeper into the technological change of the 21st century.


Questions still lie around areas such as data privacy, rollout, and the depth of transformation. But, in time, we can allow communities to decide this on their level. Because once we find the broad framework for personalized learning and assessment, districts can also personalize their experience.

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