As educators seek ways to improve student learning and decrease the dropout rate, individualized learning or what many now call personalized learning is taking the stage in the mainstream classroom.  If used correctly, personalized learning may provide students with the specific instruction that meets their needs and thus improves their achievement.

In the ASCD INFObrief, “The Building Blocks of High School Redesign” by Tom Ewing, five strategies are discussed for successful high school reform.1 Mr. Ewing points out that the first strategy is personalized learning which includes the development of individualized learning plans based on the intellectual capacity, interests, and aspirations unique to each student.

Many publishers offer individualized learning paths within their online products.  The learning paths consist of auto-generated activities and quizzes based upon a student’s performance on pretests.  As a principal, I found that in order for a student to be successful in the assigned learning path, teachers needed to consider the following:

  •  Teachers need to review and perhaps revise activities created in the learning path before they are assigned to the student, as:
    •  Some of the learning path activities may be too easy or too difficult for the student;
    • The focus and interest level of the activities may not be appropriate for the age of the student; and,
    • A student may be discouraged and overwhelmed before he starts if too many activities are assigned in the learning path.
  • The activities need to spark the student’s curiosity, relate to real world experiences, and be motivating.
  • If a student is not successful with a particular lesson, the online product should have an effective re-teach component instead of repeating the statement, “Try again”.
  • A strong personalized online product will adjust the difficulty level of the learning activities within the learning path so the student does not experience frustration by being unsuccessful after several attempts.
  • The teacher needs to meet regularly with the student to review and assess the completion of the learning path and the student’s success rate.  If students are placed in an online program and not monitored, the following will likely occur:
    • Students will race through an activity and answer questions arbitrarily; and,
    • Student motivation and the quality of their work will decrease.

If implemented correctly, individualized learning paths in online products can be very motivating and successful with students, particularly at the secondary level.  But, educators know their students best and should adjust instruction within personalized learning to maximize student achievement.

1ASCD INFObrief, Spring, 2007 Number 49, “The Building Blocks of High School Redesign” by Tom Ewing.