Education Opinion

Personalized Learning Requires Effective Teaching First,Technology Second

By Patrick Ledesma — July 15, 2012 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On Tuesday, July 10, the US Department of Education (ED) hosted “What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning” as part of their Teacher Summer Seminars.

Richard Culatta, Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology, Matthew McCrea, Science Instructional Lead Teacher at G. James Gholson Middle School in Maryland, and I discussed our perspectives on promoting personalized learning in schools from the policy, classroom, and staff development perspective.

What is Personalized Learning?

ED describes Personalized Learning as:

  1. Adjusting the pace of instruction so that instruction is more individualized.
  2. Adjusting the learning approach so that instruction is differentiated.
  3. Leveraging student interests and experiences so that learning is more... personalized.

Richard emphasized the following points in his presentation:

  • The traditional teaching model treats all learners the same despite unique needs and strengths.
  • We need a new educational model that takes classroom learning beyond a one-size fits-all mentality.
  • Personalized Learning is not about technology, but technology helps.

Richard gave some examples of how technology empowers personalized learning from 1:1 computing, use of handheld devices, classroom response systems, and learning management systems.

Matthew shared the wonderful examples from his classroom including a blended learning model in 7th grade Algebra class with 1:1 laptops and a project based learning in 7/8 STEM class with 1:1 laptops.

More than Technology Required

From my perspective, with this new emphasis on Personalized Learning, any special education teacher understands that Personalized Learning is not new. It’s what is done everyday in special education classrooms where services and instructional delivery are designed from the needs of the individual.

This focus on Personalized Learning is exciting because we’ve combined the emphasis on individual needs and empowered this approach with the power of technology.

But, with our focus on technology, one should hope that educational leaders will not view the purchasing of devices as providing quick and easy solutions. More importantly, Personal Learning demands a shift in how lessons are designed, which requires certain levels of knowledge and skillsets.

I posed the following question to the teachers:

“Let’s say that a delivery truck shows up at your school and suddenly you have all these devices such as iPads, netbooks, classroom response systems, and learning and data management portals.... Will teachers in your school teach any differently?”

Teachers understand that change does not happen so quickly and easily.

Personalized Learning, like all other models of instruction that attempt to introduce innovation in schools, is about professional development and support.

Teachers need to have certain skills for Personalized Learning to use these technologies. It’s about pedagogy and content:

Personalized Learning requires that teachers should:

1) Know their students: Teachers should know their students ' interests, know their learning styles, and know their ability levels.

In Personalized Learning, the teacher needs to be personable to the students. Teachers who already do this will be prepared for that shift; teachers that do not have this knowledge may not see the value in the technology. In order to “leverage student interests, one must first know the interests of their students and know how to act on it.

2) Know their pedagogy and content: Teachers should be able to implement multiple paths to knowledge- having a variety of ways to help a diverse group of students learn rigorous standards. This means having more than one resource or activity to teach a lesson and meet a goal or objective. This means teachers should be able to differentiate instruction, find all opportunities for remediation to help struggling learners, and understand how to provide enrichment to challenge the advanced student.

Simply giving a teacher an iPad will not guarantee this level of expertise.

3) Manage student learning: As teachers will now have classrooms where multiple activities may be occurring at the same time, this requires a level of classroom management, data keeping, and use of a variety of assessments. Not to stereotype, but elementary school teachers are more familiar with managing a classroom with lots of movement and activities going on- those teachers who rely on lecture only may need additional resources and support, as well as seeing other teachers in their subject and grade level who have this level of flexibility.

4) Access available resources
These can be tremendous challenges if teachers work alone. There is no need for teachers to reinvent the wheel. A teacher should not have multiple preps for a single class period.

As Mathew suggested in his presentation, teachers should beg, borrow, and steal the great lessons whenever possible.

In this regard, district and schools will have to provide curriculum support and ensure that all teachers have the resources to focus on student learning.

Transforming the Teaching Profession

Ultimately, just as Personalized Learning transforms student learning, it can transform the teaching profession as opportunities will be created for teachers to be design the instructional resources and provide support for teachers in schools.

And in this regard, Personal Learning has exciting potential for both the student and the teacher.

It’s time. And with technology and our information-on-demand society creating opportunities for more students to learn academics outside of school through opportunities such as through Udemy, Khan Academy, and LearnZillion, perhaps this change is inevitable.

It’s time to harness the power of technology to start meeting the needs of the individual during the school day.

So, if that delivery truck appears at your school and delivers these technologies for Personalized Learning, are you ready?

For a similar discussion on Personalized Learning, join me on July 26 for the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Webinar: The Role of Teaching in a Learner-Centered, Digitally Empowered Environment from 2:00-3:00PM.

Follow me on Twitter at @Patrick_Ledesma

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)