Up Close and Personal in the Classroom

The learning journey of children in classrooms around the world has traditionally been crammed into a singular, one-size-fits-all mold: every child must learn the same subject matter at the same pace. The reality is that not everyone is able to learn every subject at the same clip, and so children are sometimes left behind in their studies, leading to frustration or even early drop out.

The counter to this traditional model is the idea of personalised learning. Personalised learning is a teaching model based on the premise that children learn in different ways at varying speeds. It is an approach that tailors learning around each student’s interests, needs and abilities. Each child is given their own learning plan based on their individual learning characteristics – ideally they are given a say in this process. While the pace of learning may now differ between students in the classroom, the end result is the same: each child must attain mastery of the given subject matter by the end of the module or academic year.

Meeting students at their own pace allows them to reach their full academic potential as they are not overwhelmed by learning that moves too fast. By accommodating the unique needs of each student, teachers are more likely to improve overall results. It’s important to have sharply-defined learner goals for individuals, as this clarity makes the learning process easier for both students and teachers. Learners who can plainly see the path down which their journey will take them will feel more at ease in achieving specific goals and outcomes as the reasons behind doing so are transparent.

With personalised learning, individuals have a more active role in their learning journey as they now have a say in the types of activities and assignments they complete. This empowers children to engage in personal goal-setting, which will develop skills such as reliability and self-motivation that will come in use beyond the classroom and adolescence. When students feel their input has value, they are likely to gain more confidence as they progress and feel pride in their studies and accomplishments.

When teachers impersonally dictate lessons to a classroom, there is very little room for strong relationships to bloom between student and teacher. With personalised learning, teachers spend more time engaged with students individually. Consequently, teachers get to know their students’ strengths, weaknesses, needs and interests more intimately, making it easer for teachers to facilitate individual learner journeys in their classrooms. About 17% of teachers in personalised learning schools in the United States devoted a least a quarter of class time to tutoring individual students, compared to just 9% of teachers in more traditional classroom environments, according to a RAND Corporation report.

RAND Corporation also looked at 11,000 students at 62 schools trying personalised learning methodologies across the United States and found that students showed greater improvement in mathematics and literacy that their peers at traditional schools. The longer students worked within a personalised learning environment, the greater the achievement gains.

You may ask yourself how a teacher can manage to divide their attention between so many unique learner needs, especially in larger classrooms, but that’s where technology steps in to better enable personalised learning.

At the simplest level, technology allows instruction to be delivered through multiple forms of media such as videos, audio clips, interactive games, animations and more. This gives teachers plenty of options when formulating learner paths.  For example, while some children may be comfortable reading a book on their own, it may be better suited to the needs of others to listen to the same book in an audio format while reading along with the physical copy.

More advanced technological solutions include full learning management systems (LMS). These allow teachers to automate many functions of day-to-day classes, from giving out assignments to monitoring student progress. Teachers can customise each student’s learning path through the LMS while receiving real-time feedback, enabling teachers to track the overall progress of individual learners in one place.

Technology introduces new and efficient ways for students to receive and engage with relevant information and allows for multiple avenues to demonstrate what they have mastered. Technology also has the power to drive personalised learning as a strategy and through learner data and analytics gain important insights into learners’ needs.

There is still a lack of quantitative data proving the ultimate success of personalised learning as a concept, and there are relatively few examples of it being implemented (we can look at schools across New Orleans for an idea of what it might look like), but it could be the next big leap in education.


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Written by Rob Ewart

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