With the personalized learning movement growing faster than ever, we have seen numerous examples of this promising practice in action. Look no further than the ways educators are personalizing learning at the Brooklyn Lab Charter School, at Thurgood Marshall Academy, and at E.L. Haynes High School. Schools are working hard to get it right for their teachers and students, and it takes a lot of planning and continued effort to make sure that all educators and students are supported in personalized learning systems.

But NCLD wondered, “How are parents involved in personalized learning? Do they know about all of this great work that is happening? And if not, are they interested?” After all, in any big educational change, parents are a key partner for success.

So we set out to discover just how much parents know and gauge their interest in this topic. To do this, we conducted two surveys.

Understood.org Survey

The first was a two-question survey for users of Understood.org.  Anyone visiting the site was first asked to identify as an educator, a parent, a professional, a student, or “other.” Of the 1000+ responses, more than a third (37%) were parents, more than a quarter (27%) were educators, and the rest were a mix of students, professionals, or other users.

Then, we asked them which of the following terms they had heard of: competency-based progressions; flexible learning environments; learner profiles; personalized learning pathways; personalized learning; or none of the above.

Chart 1

Educators were relatively well-informed – only 9% had never heard any of the terms we listed. More than 70% knew about personalized learning and flexible learning environments. Similarly, almost 70% were familiar with learner profiles.

But the parent data looks much different.

Chart 2

Almost half of all parents knew not a single term relating to personalized learning. In fact, no more than 41% of parents had ever heard any term relating to the topic. So, with the second survey, our plan was to dig a little deeper into this.

NCLD Survey

 With the second survey, we wanted to find out more about what parents knew and we also wanted to find out what they were interested in learning. This survey was distributed to NCLD’s email list and also through other disability and advocacy organizations’ email lists. This survey was intended for parents only and asked them more than 10 questions about their familiarity with and knowledge of the four types of personalized learning.

We received more than 850 responses from parents across the country (42 states and several territories), largely from parents with children in public schools (78%) and most of whom were parents of a child with an IEP plan, a 504 plan, or both (79%).

Chart 3

Even though 42% of parents had heard the term personalized learning, that number dropped when we asked about the other more specific terms. For example, only 21% had ever heard about competency-based progression.  A few more heard about learner profiles (33%) and flexible learning environments (40%).

Chart 4

However, when asked if they were interested in learning more about personalized learning, the answer was overwhelmingly “YES!”  Almost all parents wanted to know more about every single term we presented.

What Does It All Mean?

The results were not unexpected, but were disappointing nonetheless. By and large, parents do not know what personalized learning is, but nearly all of them want to learn about it. It is unfortunate that not only are parents left out of the planning and implementation of personalized learning, but parents can be an incredibly valuable resource that schools and districts are failing to consider.

Their eagerness to learn and be a part of this movement exists, but parents are too often left out or included as an afterthought in conversations about personalized learning. Our charge – and the charge of anyone involved in personalized learning – is to become more inclusive of parents. Parents are critical partners in their child’s education, especially when it comes to a promising practice like personalized learning. Parents not only deserve to know about changes in their child’s education, but they can become true advocates and resources for educators, schools and districts as they take on developing and implementing a personalized learning system.


Next: Don’t forget to check out NCLD’s latest work and final report and resources – the product of this year’s worth of research.

Previously in the series: Personalized Learning – Part 4: Why Competency-Based Learning Works at Thurgood Marshall Academy

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