Published Online: October 20, 2014
Published in Print: October 22, 2014, as Personalized Learning: A Working Definition

Personalized Learning: A Working Definition

A group of philanthropies and school and technology advocacy groups, with contributions from educators, compiled a four-part "working definition" of the attributes of personalized learning. They also identified critical questions for K-12 officials to consider in implementing personalized learning.

Related Story: What Is 'Personalized Learning'? Educators Seek Clarity

Competency-Based Progression
Each student’s progress toward clearly-defined goals is continually assessed. A student advances and earns credit as soon as he/she demonstrates mastery.

Flexible Learning Environments
Student needs drive the design of the learning environment. All operational elements—staffing plans, space utilization and time allocation—respond and adapt to support students in achieving their goals.

Personal Learning Paths
All students are held to clear, high expectations, but each student follows a customized path that responds and adapts based on his/her individual learning progress, motivations, and goals.

Learner Profiles
Each student has an up-to-date record of his/her individual strengths, needs, motivations, and goals.

Ongoing Assessment
In what ways and how frequently should we assess each student’s level of mastery within the dimensions that we believe are essential for his/her success?
Operational Alignment
How might we deliver all of the learning experiences that our students need, with the resources we have available? What flexibility is in the design to enable us to respond and adapt to changing student needs?
Personalized Learning Plans
How can we ensure that each student has a learning plan that takes into account his/her strengths, changing needs, motivations, and goals?
Strengths & Needs
How do we capture each student’s current level of mastery within each of the dimensions that we believe are essential for his/her success (e.g. academic standards, skills)? How can we highlight students’ academic gaps to draw attention to their individual needs?
Individual Advancement
Can individual students pursue new learning experiences as soon as they have mastered the prerequisite content? How can students attain course credit based on mastery?
Staffing & Roles
In what ways might we structure teacher and other educator roles to support our instructional vision? What flexibility is needed to enable our staff to respond and adapt to changing student needs?
Varied Learning Experiences (Modalities)
What types of experiences (e.g. complex tasks, experiential learning) do students need to achieve their goals? What are the ideal methods for delivering (e.g. small group instruction, one-on-one tutoring, online learning) these experiences?
How might we support each student in understanding and articulating his/her interests and aspirations?
Time Allocation
In what ways might we maximize the time each student spends pursuing his/her goals? How might our student and staff schedules respond and adapt to changing student needs?
Student Ownership
In what ways might we enable students to develop and manage their own learning paths?
Information & Feedback
In what ways and how frequently might we provide timely, actionable information and feedback to students, teachers, and families?
Space Utilization
How can the design of the physical space support our instructional vision? Can we use spaces beyond our walls, and if so, how?
How might we support each student in setting personalized goals within each dimension that we believe is essential for his/her success? In what ways and how frequently might we ask students to reflect on their progress and adjust their goals accordingly?
Grouping & Connections
How should we group students to enable the varied learning experiences we hope to offer and modify to their changing needs? In what ways might we facilitate personal connections among students, and between students and adults?
Sources: Developed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Afton Partners, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, CEE Trust, the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Charter School Growth Fund, EDUCAUSE, iNACOL, the Learning Accelerator, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Silicon Schools, and educators
Design & Visualization: Stacey Decker

Coverage of personalized learning and systems leadership in Education Week and its special reports is supported in part by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
Vol. 34, Issue 09