What does Personalizing Learning mean to you?

Over the next few days, I’ll have the opportunity to think a bit more deeply about a few key concepts as they relate to my school.  And I have to admit a bit of a weakness on my part, with the hope that I’ll strengthen it with the help of you, the reader.

First, the concepts.  Right now there are three which aren’t completely clear and distinct in my mind.  The first of these is Personalizing Learning (as opposed to personalized, which implies its complete, done), which is one of the major goals of our BCEdplan. Now I’ve probably done it numerous times in various degrees, seen it done well, and read about it too.  I’ve researched many schools such as New York’s School of One, and tried to piece together all the bits so that I’ve got a clear concept which is distinct from the other two (individualizing and differentiating).  It’s like I don’t have the Venn diagram yet for these three.  As an educator, I know the value of understanding concepts in their full depth, and exploring all the edges of them.  And these are three I don’t fully understand their breadth.

Here’s the weakness which you may be able to relate to and help me with. I often fall into the trap of thinking my job is to implement these “new flavors”, when in fact all I really need to do is encourage the deepening of current practice.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. We reify these concepts (personalizing, differentiating, individualizing), turning them into discrete, stand-alone ideas, disembodied from the classroom.  Then, we use them prescriptively; suddenly, we are given the task of Personalizing learning, or, whatever may be the case.  In that circular path, I see so much of our time being wasted, and a mistaken approach to thinking about teaching and learning.  I’ve also come to understand how this intellectual space is often filled by someone who’s trying to sell you something.

With the wisdom of experience, and having seen this cycle happen many times, I’ve learned the better question is often, How are we already doing this, and what are valuable next steps? Who do we know who’s one step ahead of us, and how can we connect with them to leverage their knowledge? It’s not about implementation; it’s about believing you’re already doing it and identifying how to take it to the next level.

So, that’s where I hope you can help me.  What have you done to Personalize the learning for your students, and what’s your next steps? How do you understand what this idea means for you and your students, and what are you doing to bring it to life? Include your ideas in the comment space below, and/or tweet them to the hash tag #personalizing.


About Ron Sherman

I am the principal of Salmo Elementary/Secondary School, a small rural K-12 school in the Kootenay Lake School District. Happy to be part of the Grand Conversation, moving learning forward and joining with great people every day. Runner, triathlete, skier, blogger, loving husband and father of 2 great boys
This entry was posted in Education, Leadership, personalization and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What does Personalizing Learning mean to you?


    Just the rewording Personalized to Personalizing makes all the difference. It made me think that we have individualized (learning styles) and differentiated (choices) and now the next step is that students take the action of personalizing. How is what is being presented relates to them, how will they use it, where does it work? I agree that we already do these things but could do them deeper and better and more frequently. Sorry that I have not completely answered your question, but your wording just made me start thinking.

  2. J. Bevacqua says:

    Hi Ron

    I have been struggling and reflecting about this very topic lately myself. In fact this past week I joined a conversation with our school’s “personalized” learning team. Many of the same points you write about were discussed during this conversation. Personalized, differentiated, individualized – all can be considered “edu speak” and can take on different meanings depending who is interpreting. Perhaps we need to focus on the needs of our students/learners. At any given point, the learner will require some “personalizing” and “individualizing”. Some students will require us to give up total control and others times we need to ensure that we have total control – depending on the student, the topic being learned. The most effective teachers understand this and embed this in their practice. Can schools and systems be more nimble? I think yes. Curriculum for example can be developed that will make schools and teachers more reponsive to the learner. I also wonder about the effect of school size. Are large schools at a disadvantage? I wonder….

    Thanks again

  3. Bess says:

    Hi Ron,
    I am sharing with you this article which is a very interesting research that may add even more question marks:

  4. Al Post says:

    Love what you’ve written (and the responses too). I’m beginning to wonder if part of the definition of “personalized learning” equates to students progressively gaining more control over their own learning and the goals they wish to achieve. I wonder (out loud) if, over time, students will access resources like those offered through the Khan Academy to construct their own learning paths? Will students have the opportunity to follow their passion through to graduation much in the way that Kieran Egan describes in his Learning in Depth model? What impact will the internet have on the future of learning, especially if learning truly becomes something that can happen anytime and anyplace? I think the document posted by Bess highlights the fact that students will still need guidance from skilled educators in navigating all the new learning options that will be available to them in the future.

    More questions. Sorry. I’m on this journey with you…still trying to figure it all out. I look forward to continuing the dialogue!

  5. Pat Dooley says:

    Hi, Ron…I agree with your comment that the term should be “personalizing” which is an action word and fits with the concept of learning being an active, ongoing process. In terms of your comments about how to approach new terminology or direction, I have always supported the concept of linking the “new” concept or direction with what we are already doing, and then asking:
    a) what are we currently doing that is coherent with this direction?
    b) what might we stop doing that is out of sync with this direction?
    c) what might we start doing that would deepen current practice?
    In my opinion, the framework above can help make change manageable. I also think it is important to think of the global goals for students that is at the route of any proposed “new” direction…to me, they are almost always about relevance, authenticity and enhancing engagement in what is personally meaningful and beneficial to the student and his/her future life.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. bcphysics says:

    Hi Ron,
    I think noting the change in tense in personalizing learning is important. As well, here in BC the term “personalized learning” is now a loaded phrase, as it’s been co-opted by the bcedplan.

    For me, the issue around personalizing learning reaches towards formative assessment and sharing learning goals. Within this context, a lot of personalization can be attended to if there are resources. I’ve also been reflecting on the idea that there can be a conflict between personalizing learning and community building. For example, I just finished a mini-unit in physics where we used problem based learning to create and achieve conceptual and practical knowledge. If the students were all self-paced according to their “personalization”, this type of learning (PBL) would be impossible.

    I had the students submit a summary/reflection of their learning experience with the PBL. I’ve only read a few so far, and already a theme is clearly defined. The students enjoyed and saw value in collaborating and learning from each other. This is a very powerful idea that we should keep in mind.

    To answer your question, I think a good path forward is to come to some understanding of personalizing learning and then placing aspects of it into your own Personal Learning Theory. I think your actions and implementations will naturally come out of your PLT, without having to specifically and discretely address the components. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts!

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