What is Personalized Learning?

Personalized learning is an approach to education that many districts and states are exploring – some with the help of numerous grants available for this work, and all through hard work and innovation.

Personalized learning is defined as:

Students’ learning experiences – what they learn, and how, when, and where they learn it – are tailored to their individual needs, skills, and interests, and enable them to take ownership of their learning.

Although where, how, and when they learn might vary according to their needs, students also develop deep connections to each other, their teachers, and other adults.

How Does Personalized Learning Work?

You’d be hard pressed to find two schools where personalized learning looks the same. There are four well-defined and widely-used models where learning is personalized for students.

  1. Some schools create learner profiles for their students. With a learner profile, teachers have an up-to-date record for each child that provides details about each student’s strengths, needs, motivations, progress, and goals. Learner profiles allow teachers to deeply understand their students and make decisions to positively impact student learning.
  2. In schools that use personal learning paths, all students are held to high expectations, but how the students reach those goals will vary. Each student’s path is determined by and adapted to fit the student’s progress and goals. Students often have a choice in their learning and multiple options to complete a task.
  3. Competency-based progressions use continual assessment to monitor progress, allowing students to move on when they’ve mastered a skill or content. Students can earn credit for a course quickly, saving time to focus on work that is challenging for them. This model serves gifted students well, while adapting to meet the needs of students who struggle with learning. In competency-based models, students have a strong sense of ownership over their work and are able to communicate where they are in their learning, what their goals are, and how they will achieve them.
  4. Many schools that are personalizing learning also find the use of flexible learning environments to be critical. This model changes the physical space in which students are learning. Flexible learning environments respond to students’ needs throughout the school day by altering staffing plans, space, and time so that students can achieve their goals. Schools may provide small group instruction, tutoring, or online classes as part of a flexible learning environment.

Though the specific type of personalized learning may vary, all models share some important things. Most importantly, schools that use personalized learning place the student at the center of learning. Learning is tailored to the strengths and challenges of each student. Where personalized learning is successful, students have the flexibility to move quickly through content they understand and focus more closely in areas they struggle. Students also get to know themselves as a learner and are able to advocate for the ways they learn best.

Join us in our work!

In the past month, NCLD’s policy team has visited a few schools that have done it right. Follow this multi-part series to learn more about the amazing things happening for the students at the Brooklyn Lab Innovation Charter School in New York City, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, DC, and Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, DC, and the work that NCLD is doing to bring together experts and explore the world of personalized learning for students with disabilities.


Next in the series: Personalized Learning — Part 2: Three Ways the Brooklyn Lab Charter School is Personalizing Learning for All Students

Meet the NCLD Team

Carrying out the NCLD mission to improve outcomes for the 1 in 5 individuals with learning and attention issues.


Young Adult Initiatives

Help empower and advocate for young adults ages 18–26 with learning disabilities and attention issues.

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