Individualized Instruction Vs. Personalized Learning

This is one of those blog posts intended to help me shape my own thoughts – and asks you, “How close I am to the real world of teaching and learning?”

With nearly four decades of experience in education, I’ve seen initiatives and memes come and go, pumped up and deflated by the hot and cold air of the education conversation. None of it, quite frankly, has had much effect on my personal philosophies of education – and I suspect the same can be said for many of you. Hopefully, we’ve simply become better at voicing those philosophies.

So this morning, I’d like to explore what appears to me to be a passing of conversational energy (hot air) from the term, individualized instruction to personalized learning. This shift can be seen with a Google Trends analysis, comparing the number of searches of both phrases from 2005 to 2013 and projected beyond.

Graph of the shifting interest (Google Trends) between Individualized Instruction and Personalized Learning

The concepts, in my mind, are quite different. However, in practice, I fear that they could be implemented in the same way. Personalized learning, in essence, is a life-long practice, as it is for you and me, as we live and learn independent of teachers, textbooks, and learning standards.  Individualized instruction is more contained.

So here is a little more breakdown, as I see it, of the differences between personalized learning and individual instruction – acknowledging that this is not strictly an either/or proposition. Please comment your thoughts.

  Individualized Instruction Personalized Learning
Definition Planned & implemented instructional strategies based on knowledge of best practices and analysis of individual student readiness, learning styles and areas of interest. Learner devised learning activities based on reflection and conversations with teachers and other stakeholders, and a resourceful use of a growing knowledge of resources and personal learning strategies.
Literacy Becomes a.. ..mastery of a defined scope and sequence of institutionally established reading and writing skills — in addition to numeracy ..wide range of evolving information skills developed around the activities of learning – the ability to acquire knowledge and skills through the resourceful and responsible utilization of information.
Teacher’s Role Use data that provides a description of individual students’ proficiencies in order to select best practice strategies that help each student to master competencies defined by established standards.
  1. Create, craft and maintain a learning environment where learners are free to safely and effectively pursue personal interests.
  2. Guide learning experiences in order to maintain a healthy and comprehensive environmental and societal context that nurtures knowledgable, resourceful and caring citizens.
  3. Assist learners in developing and refining personal learning literacies and habits.
Student’s Role Pay attention to the teacher, follow instructions, remember and perform. Pay attention to the world, consult with the teacher (and others), identify and pursue emerging areas of interest, resourcefully learn and produce from that learning.
Standards A rich set of institutionally and politically established competencies that are founded on basic literacies and that can be tested, measured and converted into data that is optimally available to teachers for refining instruction. A much more shallow framework of competencies, founded on learning literacies, and demonstrated through original, compelling and valuable published or constructed works.
Outcomes Literate and knowledgeable performers. Skilled, knowledgeable, curious, compassionate, wise and engaged life-long learners.
It’s Essence Education is done to the student Education happens as a result of what the learner does.

What do you think?


Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.