Posted by: darcymullin | July 28, 2011

Personalized Learning…what it isn’t

My last post discussed some of the elements that I believe are important as educators move toward a more Personalized Curriculum.  While I am certainly not an expert, I have been playing with Personalized Learning in my classroom and have done a lot of reading and discussing on Twitter.

There are misconceptions about Personalized Learning.

These are some of the things I believe Personalized Learning is not

Students Meandering through Curriculum

Clear targets and Learning Goals are essential.  See this post for more clarification.  When students are navigating the information super-highway they can easily get lost.  Moving through the curriculum at their own pace and with purpose is important.

Just integrating technology Technology is a tool, but not integral to personalizing learning.  As my good tweep Tom Altepeter said “it is about being responsive to students”.  Being responsive may involve the use of technology – it is a medium that most kids understand, know how to use and will likely be a part of what they choose to do.  However, it is not a prerequisite.  Personalized learning is not using PowerPoint to stand and deliver lesson after lesson or watching a YouTube video on the class LCD projector.  Using technology to perpetuate dated pedagogy is not Personalizing education.

Khan Academy

While Khan is interesting and definitely has benefits for some students, I don’t think it works for everyone.  I can  see it used to review concepts or for the odd flipped lesson, however it is not personalized.  How can a mass produced video where he talks at students be personalized?  Yes, you can pause and replay him, but he is essentially just lecturing on YouTube.  There is no context – an essential part of the equation.  Jon Bergman – the #flipclass guru makes his own videos, based on his (and his student’s) context and then follows up with his students the next day.  Those that need more teaching or it taught a different way get it, those that don’t move on…that is personalized!

Everyone at the Same Place

Part of the Personalization process is the understanding that some students will arrive at understanding before others.  What I have found with some of the Project Based Learning I have done with my students is that there are kids who finish quick, but they are engaged, excited and eager to extend their learning or pursue something else of interest while others get to their level of understanding.

Tests as Summative Assessments

The more I think about traditional “tests” the more I realize their inefficiency as summative measurements of learning.  I think they can be very useful in checking for understanding along the way (key vocab, basic concepts etc.), but I think they fall short in giving students an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of their learning and also limit the options students have.  In my experience, giving students the opportunity to show their (summative) learning in ways that they choose has generated excellent results and I get a truer sense of their learning.

This list is far from complete and my learning on this topic will only continue.  I look forward to your comments or any other elements you would like to add to the list.



  1. Liked you blog, what you are descirbing to me sounds like a differentiated classroom.
    Could not agree more Khan Academy as a stand alone, is not personalized learning, but then I don’t think anyone ever said it was? Khan Academy started the brush fire around town and got “flipping your class” into mainstream conversations. I agree 100 percent that masters of flipping such as, Jon Bergman, Aaron Sams, Paul Anderson are making high quality, engaging videos that relate specifically to their students and then follow up with in class discussions, one to one conversations and meaningful actvities; their videos allow for class time to personalize the learning.
    However there are times as a teacher when you come across a student who does not connect to your teaching style or mode of explaining. At these times, Khan Academy videos (or other comparable video on the particular topic) can be used used to personalize the learning for this learner in this specific learning situation. You as teacher can say to the student “Hey, if the way I am explaining it is not working for you, why don’t you check out so and so.” To me that is powerful personalization. I can with very little time open another avenue for this child to learn. I think as a classroom teacher I am always happiest when I have one more option on the table for the student. I see Khan and other videos out there as tjust that, one more option.

  2. I agree, differentiation is essential to personalize the experience for students. I also think you nailed it when you mention that not all students respond to our style of teaching. Making sure kids have other options (Khan being one) is an important part of being responsive to their needs. I don’t think there is too much newness in the ideas around personalized learning, more an amalgamation of what we have learned to be good pedagogy.

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  4. There’s more on the Khan Academy site than the videos. The exercises are actually really well executed. In a way, this is adaptive and personalized. If a student hits the Khan Academy looking to nail a concept, they are going to get practice exercises at a particular level until they master that level.

    The website is actually very interesting and has some great community and competition features. It’s more than just a YouTube assembly.

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