Teaching with Technology

Evidence on Value of Personalized Learning Still Needs to Catch Up

Although educators have enthusiastically promoted personalized learning, there's still "imperfect evidence" that it leads to improved outcomes for students. Likewise, curriculum for personalized learning is "underdeveloped," and policies still exist that could "hinder" its success. In other words, it could be set up to fail, according to a recent RAND Corp. perspective.

As the assessment suggested, educators "who want to use rigorous research evidence to guide their designs will find many gaps and will be left with important unanswered questions about which practices or combinations of practices are effective."

The purpose of the perspective is to provide guidance for people designing personalized learning programs "while the evidence base is catching up."

The concept of personalized learning is to customize the educational experience for each student. In some schools that means letting students work on content tailored to their individual level of achievement (the competency-based approach). In other places, it means finding learning activities that are "more relevant" to students and letting them set educational goals and select their own materials. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on social-emotional skills development or pursuing stronger relationships with families.

For this report, author John Pane, a senior scientist for RAND, uses the term to cover "strategies, practices and supporting materials" being used in schools.

Pane's advice, in separate sections, laid out five principles to guide adoption of personalized learning with brief explanations:

  • Use "empirical evidence" where you can find it;
  • Don't ignore the principles of learning science;
  • Put energy into: 1) the "productive use of student time and attention"; and 2) the "productive use of teacher skill";
  • Use "rigorous" course content; and
  • Monitor your implementation and then be ready to adapt it.

As an example, in mastery-based skills development, the recommendation to monitor implementation and be prepared to adapt offered a warning that mastery-based approaches "however promising, are not without risks." There can be equity concerns, conflicts with assessment and accountability policies that haven't been adapted, and possibly fewer opportunities for some students to learn "higher level concepts."

"Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning While Evidence and Resources Are Underdeveloped" is openly available on the RAND website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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