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Personalized Learning Produces Positive Outcomes

Teacher Working With Male Teenage Pupil At Computer

“The longer students experience personalized learning practices, the greater their growth in achievement,” according to new research by the RAND Corporation. The report, entitled Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning, is an important contribution to understanding whether personalized learning is producing results and how it is being implemented.

With the advent of new technology platforms and digital content, scaling personalized learning is emerging in blended learning settings around the country. It is crucial to understand what benefits it is yielding.

While there is not a single definition of personalized learning, practitioners have identified key elements, including:

The achievement outcomes identified in the study are strong and indicative of the great potential for personalized learning to be transformative:

Darwin J. Stiffler, Superintendent Yuma School District One and one of the nation’s leading practitioners of personalized learning, observed, “The outcomes we are seeing from schools that are using high-quality personalized learning models are extremely encouraging. In order to achieve their potential, it is critical that personalized learning be implemented strategically, with as strong a focus on pedagogy and addressing students’ specific educational needs as on the technology itself.”

It should be noted that the report also found some mixed results across the schools studied, with only some schools seeing very large gains, while a few saw little or even negative effects. In addition, overall achievement gains were largest for students in lower grade levels.

Importantly, the study looked at implementation practices and teacher perceptions of personalized learning models and strategies.

The characteristics of schools implementing quality personalized learning included:

Relative to a national sample, more teachers surveyed used technology for personalization, incorporated competency- based learning, and agreed their schools’ data system was useful.

Highlighting the need for sustained and quality professional development, teachers in the study noted that the need to develop personalized content and lessons could be an obstacle to effective implementation. Further, the report found that a majority of teachers expressed a need for help translating data into instructional steps, but most teachers reported using a variety of data sources on a regular basis.

Most every educator strives to provide personalized learning and every student and parent wants it. Technology can enable reaching that goal consistently and at scale; the questions are how to do it for all students in classrooms, schools, and districts, and with what models and practices.

Scalable personalized learning models are new, with evolving pedagogies and support. This poses a challenge to researchers seeking to establish best practices with definitive efficacy research. Worthy contributions to the research base come from SRI International, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Christensen Institute, which look at schools and districts implementing personalized and blended learning.

While there is more to learn, we are encouraged by the early findings and with the RAND report’s conclusion that “these findings suggest the impact of personalized learning and its effects on student achievement are promising.”


By Doug Mesecar for the Lexington Institute
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