We all know that every student is unique and has their own individualized learning needs. In fact, research has suggested that taking a “personalized learning” approach can help better engage students. It can also encourage them to take ownership of their own learning – causing them to learn more in the same amount of time than peers taught using traditional models. However, one recent study demonstrated that many teachers still feel pressure to prepare students for standardized tests, rather than letting them pursue areas of interest at their own pace.

With all these outside pressures to contend with, how can you adapt your current teaching methods to better integrate the practice of personalized learning? In this post, we’ll address what personalized learning is and how you can use it to encourage your students to become more invested in their education.

What is personalized learning and how can you apply it in your classroom?

In personalized learning, students and teachers work together to design students’ education. This means that students are not only able to work at their own pace, but also have the opportunity to initiate their own learning experiences and pursue projects that are of interest to them. For instance, high school students in an information technology class with an emphasis on personalized learning might design their own summative assessment, selecting which technology they’d like to learn more about—whether that be Photoshop, JavaScript, or something else—and then create a project around the skills they’d like to master.

In this model, teachers are able to assist students in developing individualized learning goals that are suitably challenging for their level and then assess how well they were able to fulfill those goals. This approach gives students a much greater stake in their education and allows them to cultivate skills related to their passions and interests.

If the personalized learning approach sounds like it would be beneficial in your classroom, here are a few tips to get started:

Allow students to have input on their personal learning goals

While it might not be reasonable to allow students to decide how they will be assessed for every assignment over the school year, teachers can certainly create projects that allow learners to have a say in what they will learn, how they will learn it, and how they will demonstrate their knowledge. Middle or high school students, for example, could be asked to create a project proposal in which they outline the area that they intend to learn more about, their learning goals, and how they will showcase their new knowledge and/or skills. As an instructor, you can provide support and feedback to help students refine these ideas into achievable goals.

Not only does this approach allow students develop in areas that are of interest to them, but it also forces them to take an active role in their education, setting out their own goals and criteria for success with the guidance of their instructor(s).

Use ongoing, formative assessment to develop a detailed learner profile of each student

The best way to help students achieve their learning goals is to understand them. What are their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and needs? One study refers to this strategy as creating a “learner profile” of each of your students. By assessing your students on an ongoing basis, rather than focusing primarily on key benchmarks such as tests or projects, you will have a much better idea of their progress and how you can best work to support and challenge them on their learning journey.

One strategy to integrate more formative assessment into your classroom and build more detailed learner profiles of your students is to split larger assignments into smaller steps that students can turn in for feedback. This approach allows you to have a detailed look at students’ progress and understand how you can best meet their learning needs. (Psst, for more information on formative assessment, check out our free guide!)

Use technologies to support continuous learning beyond the classroom

Technology provides so many opportunities for students to engage with the material they’re learning at their own pace, both inside and outside the classroom. It can also be a lot of fun! For instance, you can set up a classroom website and link interesting articles or videos for students to explore at their own pace. Or you can encourage students to practice their skills outside of the classroom with learning games such as Duolingo or Sheppard Software.

We hope that these tips help you as you work to personalize your students’ learning experiences to suit their individual needs! There are many other ways you can bring an individualized experience to your students.

Continue your learning by reading Teaching to the Test vs. Testing What You Teach: Mastery-Based Evaluations or check out 5 Trends to Watch for in the Future of Assessments (tailored learning is #4!).

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