Personalization in Practice: Observations from the Field

WCER Working Paper No. 2015-08

Rich Halverson, Al Barnicle, Sarah Hackett, Tanushree Rawat, Julia Rutledge, Julie Kallio, Curt Mould, and Janice Mertes

December 2015, 30 pp.

ABSTRACT: Personalized learning places the interests and abilities of learners at the center of their education experience. Educators develop environments in which students and teachers together build plans for learners to achieve both interest-based and standards-based goals. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education worked with leaders at the Institute for Personalized Learning (IPL) to identify five K–12 schools for a 6-month research project documenting what personalized learning looks like in these schools. This research report presents the initial findings. The central questions and findings that guide this report are:

  1. How do IPL schools encourage students to be active participants in their learning? Educators in the IPL schools attempt to create a culture of agency by designing opportunities for students (and educators) to collaboratively control the time, pace, space, place, content and goals of their learning.
  2. How do IPL schools shift the role of educators to support personalization? IPL schools enable educators to engage in regular, data-driven consultation with students to construct learning pathways and set learning goals.
  3. How are learning technologies used in IPL schools? IPL schools develop socio-technical ecologies, that is, environments where technologies are selected by educators to address the interests and needs of all learners. The ecologies have three dimensions: (1) all schools provide information technologies that allow students to coordinate and document learning processes and outcomes; (2) all schools provide computer-adaptive assessment and curriculum programs that individuate skill and content development learning in math and reading; (3) some schools create digital media spaces to foster creativity in activities such as gaming, coding, performance, production and making.

Across the IPL schools we found a shared vision of teaching and learning that framed the practices to provide students with agency over their learning, the interactions of teachers and students, and the selection and use of technologies. Commitment to a core pedagogy of student ability to design, track and assess a learning program pervades our observations at the IPL schools.

Full Paper

keywords: personalized learning, student agency, flexible learning environments, educational technologies, collaborative learning, K–12 education.