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?


20 thoughts on “Individualized Instruction Vs. Personalized Learning”

  1. G’day David (from Sydney Australia). I have been reflecting on a similar thought. I have been a facilitator of learning for half the time you have and like you, have felt my own personal philosophy of education has remained fairly consistent. The tools to provide the means in which to learn have varied. However, in my KLAs (key learning areas) of design and technology, food technology, ICT and Drama, experiential learning, design thinking, critical thinking skills, improvisation skills, lateral thinking and curiousity are integral components to the learning progress. Individualised instruction for me, does conjure images of “being done to” . To instruct is partly necessary to provide guidance and essential
    safety for example. However, personalised learning as a term conjures images of practicality and action. It supports a “whole person” one size DOES NOT fit all approach. This is the space I would hope all learners (adults and students) are able to learn forward in. @7mrsjames

  2. First thing that came to me after reading your table was:

    School Day vs After School


    School Year vs Summer

    Children do the second column naturally to the degree they have established a foundation via the first column and via their adult influencers. I’ve seen it with my own kids and with those the likes of Caine’s Arcade, or Super Awesome Sylvia, or even to a degree, Brittany Wenger the Google Science Fair winner.

    I think the child in the most neglected environment will do this naturally. Unfortunately we cheat the child and ourselves by wasting these children’s potential due to poverty, neglect, and misguided or, on purpose, established priorities.

    I do feel technology can help, but it can only help if the child has a decent foundation in learning and some basic skills, and has not had the will to learn drummed out of them by negative experiences.

    This is hard and grueling work for educators in the trenches, but extremely admirable.

  3. David, I work with Ohio’s Credit Flexibility law — 100% what you call ‘Personalized Learning’.

    Which is to say ending the division John Patten above calls ‘school day vs after school’.

    In Ohio, any HS student can legally learn ANYTHING she wants ANY WAY she wants. [So long as she can find a teacher to sign off on it]. That’s not easy to achieve for the students, of course. We have work to do to make it easier for them.

    As to what to call it, I’ve long used ‘individualized learning’, but it doesn’t much matter.

    The goal is for every student to have at least one learning project during the school week that they can call their own, that they’ve picked, that engrosses their attention.

    That is, the ability to learn ‘from anyone’, ‘with anyone’, ‘anywhere’. As often as possible in a project which is ‘connected to real life’?

    By current law, it’s all student-driven. Which means happens only as a result of What the Learner Does.

    It’s an exciting future starting now.

  4. We all today are looking for methods to enhance the intellectual upbringing of our children. We provide the most appropriate and unique set of programs and courses designed by our team of experts for overall creative, academic, personality and intellectual growth in your child at the right stage and age of learning.

  5. This is totally timely, as I’m starting an MPA program. I’m struggling to find the balance between the two. Perhaps because I’ve never really had the opportunity for personalized learning, but our entire system is based on individualized instruction?

  6. I think that personalized learning is much better than individual learning. Personalized learning let the person gain experience in life which let him/her become successful in life. Individual learning is also important for the person to get knowledge which helps them in career.

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