When personalized learning came on the scene, some found it challenging to get a grip on what it meant for instruction. A beloved retired master teacher colleague mused, “Personalized learning – isn’t that a little redundant? Isn’t all learning personal?”

Shouldn’t personalization be the first thing we think about when designing instruction? C.S. Lewis advises, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things.”

I’ve struggled with personalization in other contexts as well, having been repeatedly admonished by, well, almost everyone: “Don’t take things so personally!” It seems like an impossible charge.

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All learning is personalized learning

In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” protagonist Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) articulates this paradox after Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox informs her that putting her independent bookstore out of business wasn’t personal: “All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal anyway? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

Yes, exactly. Everything ought to begin by being personal, especially teaching and learning. Learning is personal. Our students bring vastly different experiences to the table. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 2000 to 2015, our nation’s population became increasingly diverse, with the share of Caucasian students decreasing from 61 to 49 percent.

About the Author:

Kay Koepsel-Benning is Director of Library Services at Elmbrook Schools in Brookfield, WI.


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