What is Personalised Learning?

ALL schools aspire to meet the needs of ALL learners; This is personalisation or in the USA, personalization.

Brief – There are two broad categories of personalised learning. (Personalized Instruction)
Student Centred Learning –
Also known as ‘Collaborative Learning’ or ‘P-route’
(BY the learners with their Peers)

Individualised Learning  – Also known as ‘Tailored Learning’ or ‘T-route’
(FOR the learners by their Teacher )

Personalised learning is undeniably the next step in education globally.  The wide acceptance of this statement has meant that a whole range of educational philosophies have felt the need to define themselves in terms of personalisation and this has had the effect of confusing the meaning of the term.

There are two basic types of personalisation depending on which educational philosophy you support.

1.   Personalisation FOR the learner (The T-route)

This is often called INDIVIDUALISED LEARNING.  The basic idea behind this defininition of personalisation is based on work by Bloom.  Bloom discovered that learning could be accelerated most when an expert teacher coached one learner.  Teachers acting in this way respond to all the learner’s needs and ‘Tailor’ an educational programme for them.  Personalisation FOR the learner is an extension of this idea and aims to find ways for the teacher to tailor individualised programmes for every student.  Bloom recognised that this was only really possible if the group sizes were 4 or less.

This method is widely in use in the form of withdrawl groups, private tutors, ‘booster’ classes and ILPs (individual learning plans).  The key term here is INDIVIDUAL, it assumes that the main relationship for the learner is with the teacher and does not tend to value collaboration.

For teachers in the classroom, typically with 30 students  T route Personalisation would require the teacher to define 30 routes every lesson.  This could be done with a God-Like teacher (of which there are some !) or some believe it could be done using a computer as the teacher (they thought the same when radio and then TV came along – normally people who have missed the point about the importance of human interaction).  In reality, even with computers to assist teachers in BLENDED models, research observation has concluded that up to four separate tailored routes can be achieved.  Separate routes within the same lesson is called DIFFERENTIATED LEARNING.  It is the most common form of T-route personalisation currently in use.  Teachers define up to four different student types in their group and produce lessons tailored to these.  These four lessons go on in parallel although it is most common for the teacher to set the same task at the start and then provide different end points or routes through it.

So the definition of Personalisation FOR the learner is…

A teacher or educational expert providing a tailor made education or each individual learner.

2.  Personalisation BY the learner (P-route)

This is often called STUDENT CENTRED LEARNING because it aims to empower the learner as an active and collaborative participant in their own and their peer’s learning. If the T route is 1 teacher: 30 learners, the P route would be 31 teachers:31 learners.

It is fair to say that most outstanding teachers within excellent education systems provide lessons that BOTH deliver the curriculum content AND continuously build the personal learning and thinking skills of their students.  When such practice becomes embedded in the culture of the whole school, students begin to take these skills from lesson to lesson and more teachers become confident to include more diverse methods in their teaching and hand over greater ownership of the learning to their students.  For these skills to be built into your school culture, all teachers must agree clear definitions for them.  Such a set of definitions can be found at the learning by ladders site.

The problem has always been that this method of learning although leading to much  more higher order thinking, takes time because students are developing their skills as well as the subject knowledge.  For this reason school systems tend to take ownership of learning from students during their primary years in order to deliver the testable knowledge more efficiently.  Defining outcomes in terms of ‘problem based learning’ or ‘challenge based learning’ can combat this tendency towards over structuring, and oversimplifying the essential skills required for learning.

So the definition of Personalisation BY the learner is

Teachers or educational experts setting up opportunities for learners to develop the skills and confidence they need to learn most effectively and help others learn most effectively.

This is NOT an argument of skills verses content.  Teachers can still be ‘delivering’ the same amount of content but P-route demands that in parallel to this they are activily helping to develop learner competencies so that the learners are increasingly helping each other.

Combining the two models

Stephen Heppell describes the need for Personalisation WITH the learner and I fully support this as the intermediate step between to two models.  My reason for going beyond this to Personalisation BY the learner is because I believe that whist it is true to say that most good learning is collaborative, the learner also needs to be driving this and able to work alone or without the support of others when required.

In reality, outstanding teachers are really strategists – experimenting with ways of achieving the learning goals most effectively.  They will select when to use T-type personalisation and when to use P-type and indeed when to personalise WITH, depending on which fits the students, objectives and circumstances best.  They will recognise the dangers that T-route can lead to dependency and erode learners confidence and they will recognise the dangers that P-route can be inefficient with time and result in trial and error learning that can in itself erode confidence.  Outstanding teachers work within this understanding but they would tend to adopt P-route practice as the basis with T-route as a strategy within this rather than the other way around.  An online survey of outstanding teachers from over 50 countries I was fortunate enough to run, placed this balance at around 75% P-route and 25% T-route.  (See the 70:30 rule for excellent lessons)

The school has a critical role to play in this process because the essential competencies required by learners develop very slowly over years.  The CASE and CAME projects for example, suggested that the benefits of P-route may take four years to show results.  Given that most teachers only have groups for one or two years there has to be whole school action taken to support the P-route.  All schools that OFSTED in the UK has reported on as sustainably outstanding have whole school policies that track and develop these essential competencies and afford them high status.  This is no co-incidence.

How to Personalise Learning?

I hope this site helps you to make progress in this crucial endeavour.  If you find resources that help, please let me know.

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One comment on “What is Personalised Learning?

  1. Pingback: What is personalised learning? | Making School Personal

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