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personalized learning diversity

Does growing student diversity mean a renewed focus on personalized learning?

One district invests in a personalized learning framework and sees results soar within their diverse student body.

Research shows that diversity in today’s students (e.g. socio-economic background, gender, race, and previous learning experiences) is greater than ever before. In fact, a conservative 30-40 percent of students may require an alternate learning path or support during their learning, since a diverse student body means different strengths and weaknesses for each individual student.

Personalized learning seems like a natural consideration as an effective learning option for such a high level of learner diversity. During a recent webinar, “Making Learning Personal for All: The Growing Diversity of Today’s Classroom,” sponsored by Digital Promise, Superintendent of the Vista Unified School District, CA, Dr. Devin Vodicka and Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Promise Vic Vuchic made the case for personalized learning as student diversity becomes a critical issue in today’s schools.

“With this level of diversity, if we don’t start building on the research and understanding of how kids vary, then we risk creating products and programs that are designed for the average,” said Vuchic, highlighting that by designing for the average student, we are not actually designing for any student.

Not Just Any Personalized Learning

However, according to Vodicka and Vuchic, in order to be effective, personalized learning must be strengthened by research and technology, which improves the precision of personalization and enables educators to explore exactly what parts of the curriculum should be personalized for students.

Vodicka described how Vista Unified School District’s journey to personalized learning began in a bit of a fog—although the community liked the idea of personalizing learning for every students, they didn’t know what it meant for the district.

(Next page: A personalized learning framework gets results)

A Framework for Personalized Learning

The district decided to tackle the issue of defining what personalized learning would look like for their diverse student body by creating a five-point framework, consisting of: 1) the student profile; 2) technology (as a tool, not a driver); 3) a personal learning path, where students exercise choice; 4) the learning environment, which must be dynamic and flexible; and 5) a competency-based approach, where students set personal goals tied to real-world applications.


Vodicka made sure to emphasize that students were crucial contributors and codesigners of the district’s personalized learning plan.

When starting a personalized learning journey, he recommended listening to students and asking for feedback on considerations such as how they can be more connected to the school and enthusiastic about school in general. Educators are then urged to use that feedback to tap into the potential within each learner.

In other words, “put students in a place where they can drive their learning and exercise a lot more choice,” explained Vodicka.

Seeing Results

Since implementing a structured personalized learning framework, the Vista Unified School District has seen improved attendance, reduced behavioral problems, more students opting into higher levels of challenges, and increased graduation rate among its diverse student boday.

About the Presenters

Dr. Devin Vodicka, Superintendent of Vista Unified School District, was recognized as 2016 California Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators and 2015 Superintendent of the Year by Pepperdine University; and received the 2015 California Superintendent of the Year award by the Association of California School Administrators and the Innovative Superintendent Award from the Classroom of the Future Foundation in 2014. Dr. Vodicka’s education career began in the classroom over 20 years ago, when he taught English learners in Los Angeles. He has held numerous leadership roles including principal, director of curriculum and instruction, and chief business official in the Carlsbad Unified School District.

Vic Vuchic, Chief Innovation Officer, Digital Promise, is a thought leader in education technology and philanthropy. He is an expert in learning science, innovation, and scaling what works; and has launched initiatives that have aimed to increase access to education and improved learning for tens of millions of learners in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Prior to Digital Promise Global, Vic consulted with a number of foundations and organizations on education technology, innovation and philanthropy. Prior to consulting, Vic developed strategies and managed over $100 million in technology-focused grants at the Hewlett Foundation to launch and grow the Open Educational Resources movement and create and advance the Deeper Learning strategy.

Join the Personalized Learning for All Community

Personalized Learning for All is a free professional learning community (PLC) that brings together researchers, educators, entrepreneurs and product developers to share the latest research findings, best practices, and success stories that are shaping the development of research-based programs and products to address the growth of learning variability in today’s schools. Join the community to connect with others, participate in discussion, and gain access to resources.

The recording of this webinar can be viewed by anyone here.


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