Special Report
Ed-Tech Policy

From the Editor: A Critical Look at the Evolution, and Future, of Personalized Learning

By Kevin Bushweller — October 18, 2016 1 min read
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Personalized learning is not sweeping through schools, as some would have you believe.

The typical school still conducts its classroom business in much the same ways it did five or 10 years ago. In most schools, digital tools are now available, but they aren’t used extensively to tailor instruction to individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. And designing rigorous curricula and assessments around students’ personal interests remains both an educational and a technological challenge.

But the push to design teaching and learning around students’ distinctive academic needs, and even their personal interests, is no longer happening only in pockets of experimentation around the country. This trend has now entered the K-12 mainstream, and its expansion is quickening.

Take Vermont, which Education Week visited in 2011 for its annual Technology Counts report to profile a middle school that was testing digitally driven, personalized learning. It was an experiment—underwritten by a foundation and studied by a local university—that many other schools and policymakers were watching closely.

The state is now phasing in a law passed in 2013 that calls for public schools to establish personalized learning plans, or PLPs, for all middle and high school students. Teachers are still figuring out what that means for them and how it will work for students. But the bottom line is that the law pushed personalized learning into the mainstream in a big way in Vermont. Other states have passed similar measures in recent years.

But the challenges ahead for the next generation of personalized learning initiatives are significant. To begin with, the research evidence to support comprehensive personalized learning is thin, at best. The approach also requires big investments in educational technology to give teachers and students access to adaptive curricula and assessments. And possibly most challenging, teachers have to be committed to transforming the ways they teach, or else personalized learning will never evolve beyond a buzzword.

We hope you find the articles and resources in this special report informative and helpful as you evaluate the role of personalized learning in your schools.

Coverage of the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and the use of personalized learning is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2016 edition of Education Week as From the Editor: Personalized Twists, Turns

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