What makes Personalized Learning, Personalized?

What is Personalized Learning?

I was recently participating in a webinar where the question was asked this way. Are personalization and differentiation the same? My answer is no. I would say the same about individualization. Personalization represents a different approach to instruction and learning compared to differentiation and individualization. The most significant difference is that personalization is learner-centered. We can certainly use differentiation and individualization in a learner-centered context, but they tend to be applied in a teacher-centered context. The trait that makes Personalized Learning personal is the commitment to placing the learner at the center of the construction of their own learning experience.

Personalized Learning intentionally changes the relationship between learner and educator. As an educator, of course I continue to be guided by learning expectations, standards and graduation requirements. But now I will also take my cues from the learners with whom I’m working in partnership. In order to do this, I will need to know more about each learner; their interests, learning styles, skills, strengths and weaknesses. I will need to take advantage of formative assessment data. And most importantly, I will need to listen carefully to my partners as we plan and implement together.

Learners must also take on a role that for most will be new. Learners will have voice and will apply that voice in a responsible use of ownership. Like their teachers, they will be guided by external learning expectations. And they will also guide the learning experience using their internal expectations and motivations. Learners must be aware of their interests, learning styles, skills, strengths and weaknesses, and use those to inform their work.

The shift to Personalized Learning is a paradigm shift for public education. Learners, educators and parents must reimagine their roles in order to successfully make the transition. And we must all give ourselves the time and space and opportunity to do so.


Tom Alderman, M. Ed. | Director of Policy and Governance

Tom joins the SchoolHack team from the Vermont State Agency of Education where he most recently served as the State Director of Secondary and Adult Education. While there, Tom promoted policy supporting personalization, flexibility and proficiency-based learning. Tom played an integral role with Act 44 of 2009, Act 77 of 2013 and the revision of the Education Quality Standards in 2014. Tom also served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1991 through 1996 as a member of the Judiciary Committee where during that time was elected to the University of Vermont Board of Trustees. "I'm pleased to be able to contribute to the continuing development and implementation of LiFT to our public education needs."