Personalized learning’s rationale has strong intuitive appeal: We can all remember feeling bored, confused, frustrated, or lost in school when our classes didn’t spark our interests or address our learning needs. But an intuitive rationale doesn’t clearly translate to effective practice. For personalized learning to actually move the needle on improving student experiences and elevating student outcomes, the question of how schools and teachers personalize is just as important as why.

So how do schools effectively personalize learning? Is it through online learning? Mastery-based learning? Project-based learning? Exploratory learning? Each of these common approaches offers a unique dimension of personalization. Yet one of the most important ways to personalize learning may be easily overlooked in the quest for new and novel approaches to instruction.

It’s all about the teacher
Teachers, by far, have the biggest impact on student learning and student experiences. Even in classrooms with the latest adaptive-learning technology, an expert teacher’s professional intuition is still the best way to understand and address the myriad cognitive, non-cognitive, social, emotional, and academic factors that affect student achievement.

How team teaching can impact #blendedlearning

Additionally, one of the most valuable forms of personalization is authentic, personal relationships between students and teachers. It therefore makes sense that any school looking to offer personalized learning should not only explore new technologies and instructional practices, but also think carefully about how to increase students’ connections with great educators.

To that end, over the past year, The Clayton Christensen Institute partnered with Public Impact to study the intersection between personalized learning and school staffing. Our aim was to observe how schools might be using new staffing arrangements to better meet the individual learning needs of their students. We studied eight pioneering schools and school networks—including district, charter, and private schools—and documented their practices in a series of case studies.

About the Author:

Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow at The Clayton Christensen Institute.


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