Connect with us


The Difference Between Personalized Learning And Individualized Learning



The Difference Between Personalized Learning And Individualized Learning

contributed by John McCarthy, EdS

What is the difference between personalized learning and individualized learning?

The term personalization and individualization are often used synonymously for differentiating instruction.

While both concepts support meeting students’ learning needs, they serve different purposes. For many educators, this conversation may seem like an exercise in semantics. Yet the differences in the practical usage of personalization and individualization can help improve instructional planning by teachers and be strategic in meeting the needs of all students.

Differentiation is the lens for the tools and resources for meeting learner needs. Personalization and individualization are approaches for providing the best conditions for the success of students achieving the learning goals.

Differentiation Defined

It is best to start with a common structure for taking this dive into deeper learning through Differentiation. In practice, the definition of differentiation focuses on meeting the needs of all learners, beginning through assessments of where their skills currently stand. Lorna Earl explains the relationship between assessments and Differentiation best.

She states, “Differentiation is making sure that the right students get the right learning tasks at the right time. Once you have a sense of what each student holds as ‘given’ or ‘known’ and what he or she needs in order to learn, differentiation is no longer an option; it is an obvious response.”

Differentiation in Practice: Intuitive & Intentional

There are two approaches to practicing Differentiation: Intuitive and Intentional. When used together, the effective and efficient practice of personalization and individualization of instruction can take place.

Intuitive differentiation occurs ‘in the moment’ as instruction happens. Teachers make adjustments based on “how students respond—or do not react—to the plan (John McCarthy, So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation). A core skill of teachers is being able to adapt instruction when some students appear to be lost, or for learners who find the work to be not challenging.

Intentional differentiation happens during the lesson planning process. Preplanning enables teachers “reflecting on and implementing the elements of differentiation into lessons provides strategic support of student learning” (John McCarthy, 2017). If we know that students are likely to negatively struggle with an upcoming lesson, or have previously learned the targeted skills, then preplanning differentiation based on assessment data is necessary for greater chances of learner success.

Once the plan is in place from intentional differentiation, teachers will have prepared responses to the predicted likely needs of learners, such as leveled activities aligned to readiness skills of students, graphic organizers, and/or opportunities for students to drive how they can best demonstrate their understanding. Within this context of Differentiation, personalization and individualization can be used with greater clarity.

Individualization Of Learning

Individualizing learning is likely most often used as it is a teacher-centered approach. Teachers look at assessment data to identify trends for the common needs of the group, either whole class or through small groups. For example, students working on research and writing may be identified into groups based on skill level for writing details, from a basic listing to using text evidence.

When individualizing, teachers develop supportive designs, using student data. Students may be given choices, but they are generally not included in the drafting process. This teacher-centered approach is useful when the scaffolds and adjustments can be generalized based on students’ shared common needs.

The learning experiences may be differentiated in several ways:

The teacher provides a variety of graphic organizers and other tools to students based on their needs while conducting a whole class experience. The lesson might also include jigsaws or think-pair-shares that encourage students to support each other’s thinking during the whole class lesson.

Small Groups & Individuals
The teacher plans centers activities where students rotate between stations that include folders, each assigned to the needs of student groups. The centers could also be virtual to add more options and address any room space challenges. The teacher has the option to move around to provide help where needed or run a station to meet with groups or individuals for coaching support.

The teacher designs and offers set choices. The students pick from the options, giving them some control of their learning experience. Choice is a gateway to true student voice, which is often fostered through personalized learning.

Other examples of Individualization might include Guided Reading and leveled math groups or classes. Often when we think about the readiness skills of learners, we group them based on their assessment results. It is how teachers differentiate based on common needs. Identifying a student’s learning preferences and interests is used by teachers to inform lesson planning and unit development.

See TeachThought Differentiation Workshops

In each case, when the teacher drives the development work, informed by assessment data, the results can be high-quality individualization.

Personalization Of Learning

Personalizing is actively including the learner in constructing their understanding. What skills and life experiences does she have, and how could they be used to tackle concepts and skills? What the student brings is used along with academic assessment data to craft learning experiences that use the student’s strengths and interests.

For example, let students design their homework practices and assessments, with guidance on the academic criteria from the teacher. An easy first step is to give students two options as designed by the teacher. Then, give them a third option, which is to develop their own idea. The teacher listens to the student’s proposal. The design can be accepted, revised, or sent back to students for developing a new idea. If the student does not get a proposal accepted within a specified time frame, he must pick from the teacher-designed options.

Including students in the lesson or assessment development process does take more time in the short term, but may save time in the long term, because the learning connections are tighter with students’ active input. Involving students in the planning process enables them to provide ideas that “they” know will help them make learning connections, raise buy-in, and empower them to persevere where needed.

All this can happen because the student shares in the planning process.

Differentiation Meets Everyone’s Needs

Individualization and personalization are both good for meeting learner needs. While there may be arguments by proponents on both sides, what matters is differentiating for what students need to achieve. Analysis of these ideas can provide us a nuanced perspective that contributes to the search for improving student achievement. The best option will depend on the teacher’s comfort zone when planning and how best students might respond.

Individualizing is a common choice by teachers because it seems quicker to manage and plan with only one person, the teacher. Arguably, individualization based on sound assessment results can be used for many day-to-day student needs. Personalization requires teachers to be willing to give up at least some of their control of the planning.

When a student helps create what is often a performance assessment, there is no guessing by the teacher as to the fit. No need to convince students that the learning experience will be good for them because they helped make the choices.

The next time you are planning intentional differentiation, think about if individualization or personalization is the best approach for that upcoming lesson. Whichever path you choose, based on a close look at assessment data, will be good for students.

John McCarthy is a TeachThought PD Workshop Facilitator and author of So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation

Differentiation through Personalization and Individualization: Meeting needs for all learners;

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Four Stages Of A Self-Directed Learning Model



self-directed learning stagesFour Stages Of A Self-Directed Learning Model

by TeachThought Staff

Self-Directed Learning is not new–but is perhaps misunderstood.

In the linked post above, Terry Heick wondered about the relationship between self-directed learning and the purpose of education:

The goal of the model isn’t content knowledge (though it should produce that), but rather something closer to wisdom–learning how to learn, understanding what’s worth understanding, and perhaps most importantly, analyzing the purpose of learning (e.g., personal and social change). It also encourages the student to examine the relationship between study and work–an authentic ‘need to know’ with important abstractions like citizenship and legacy.

Studied in terms of adult education and vocation for years, self-directed learning is increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons, including growing dissatisfaction with public schooling, and the rich formal and informal learning materials available online. This is the ‘age of information’ after all.

Self-directed learning is one response, something slideshare user Barbara Stokes captures in this chart, based on the model by Gerald Grow. The four stages–very similar to the gradual release of responsibility model–appear below.

The Four Stages Of The Self-Directed Learning Model

Learner                            Teacher

Stage 1   Dependent        Authority, Coach

Examples: Coaching with immediate feedback. Drill. Informational lecture. Overcoming deficiencies and resistance.

Stage 2:  Interested          Motivator, Guide

Examples: Inspiring lecture plus guided discussion. Goal-seting and learning strategies.

Stage 3:  Involved             Facilitator

Examples: Discussion faciliated by teacher who participates as equal. Seminar. Group projects.

Stage 4:  Self-Directed     Consultant, Delegator

Examples: Internship, dissertation, individual work or self-directed study group.

Theories of Teaching and Learning: The Staged Self-Directed Learning Model, G.Grow. from Barbara Stokes; Four Stages Of A  Self-Directed Learning Model

Continue Reading


The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment



The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment

contributed by David Garrick, Dean of Graduate School of Education, UCDS College for School Culture

The general idea behind a competency-based assessment is that it provides students and families with specific feedback about student performance that can lead to a clearer understanding of progress and skills gained over time.

As Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the UCDS College for School Culture, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the possibilities that competency-based assessment can provide. Students who attend University Child Development School (UCDS) in Seattle don’t earn A’s, B’s, or F’s. Instead, student assessments are communicated through our own set of competency-based continua for various subjects.

These continua, paired with narrative communication with students and families, make up the school’s framework for assessment, based on skill progressions. I’ve seen the benefits first-hand in Pre-K through elementary classrooms, and also in training at the graduate level.  

By providing specific information about the academic and social skills students exhibit, schools provide detailed and actionable information. This empowers students in their learning and educators in their teaching practices. Here’s a general overview of the benefits of competency-based assessment.

Building Competency-Based Assessments: The Benefits

1. Improved clarity & transparency

Greater clarity allows teachers and families to identify areas of strength and areas where students may need additional support. In all cases, these assessments provide teachers with detailed knowledge about student progress that can be used to build individualized goals and educational plans.

In addition to evaluating proficiency in these domains, teachers should regularly share comprehensive feedback individual student accomplishments and struggles. For example, UCDS teachers provide narrative commentary to families where they focus on how a student engages within each domain, as well as notable accomplishments and struggles.

Focusing on comprehensive feedback brings clarity to the learner, and clarity to the family about what’s happening in the classroom. Letter grades don’t show the full picture (suggesting alternatives to letter grades), and a competency-based model is better equipped to provide students, families and future schools with clear information about each student’s social and academic progress.


2. More seamless personalization of learning

Through Competency-Based Learning, educators have a better chance to provide a deeper view into each student’s learning attitudes and strategies and can provide resources that best support individual needs. This type of information is key to understanding the unique modes, strategies, and coaching to which each student responds best. This is the foundation of personalized learning.

3. It helps shift towards a culture of assessment

To successfully adopt competency-based strategies, teachers and administrators must first reevaluate assessment. While traditional forms of assessment (i.e., exams and quizzes) are valuable when placing students on a general scale of progress, they don’t show the whole picture. Making changes to assessment can be daunting for some educators, especially those who have been using traditional assessment practices throughout their career. It can also be a shift for parents to evaluate their student’s performance without a grade.

It’s important that teachers pursue resources and professional development that introduce different methods of assessing student progress, and why they hold value. As every teacher knows, the learning never stops – and by staying on top of current trends, curriculum can be adapted to meet every students’ needs.

4. Students better understand their own learning profile

Through comprehensive, competency-based assessment methods, teachers can help students to reach college and career readiness with greater self-knowledge about their learning approaches and needs. Working from a continuum of skills ensures that every student is being challenged in a way that is appropriate to what they want and need to learn and that educators can give individualized support as needed to help them move forward.

Removing the stress of being placed on a tiered grading scale shifts the focus back to learning, while building the confidence to make mistakes. Students take ownership of their learning. They feel empowered when mastering a skill and learn to identify what’s next.


For teachers, competency-based assessment brings depth and value to curriculum. With the focus shifted away from letters and percentages, students become more involved in long-term progress and are more apt to become engaged and take risks while learning.

Ranking students based on undefined competencies and then using that rank to determine their future prospects and contributions is a practice best left to past eras. Competency-based assessment provides more detailed information that promotes better-targeted teaching and learning for all parties involved.  

Continue Reading


5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious



Causing curiosity in students boils down to knowing that student.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

by Terry Heick

Understanding where curiosity comes from is the holy grail of education.

Education, of course, is different than learning but both depend on curiosity.

Education implies a formal, systematic, and strategic intent to cause learning. In this case, content to be learned is identified, learning experiences are planned, learning results are assessed, and data from said assessments play some role in the planning of new learning experiences. Learning strategies are applied, and snapshots of understanding are taken as frequently as possible.

This approach is clinical and more than a smidgeon scientific. It arrests emotion and spontaneity in pursuit of planning and precision, a logical trade in the eyes of science.

Of course, very little about learning is scientific. While data, goals, assessment, and planning should all play a role in any system that purports to actually accomplish anything, learning and education are fundamentally different. The former is messy and personal, painful and fantastic. The latter attempts to assimilate the former—or at least streamline it as much as possible in the name of efficiency.

An analogy might help. (I love teaching with analogies.)

learning : education :: true love : dating service

True love may very well come from a dating service, and dating services do all they can to make it happen, but in the end—well, there’s a fair bit of hocus pocus at work behind it all.

Hubris & Education

Education is simultaneously the most noble and hubristic of all endeavors. There are two minds to every educator. This may all reek of sensationalism, but watch anyone at play, honing a craft, lost in a book, or engaged in a digital simulation and you’ll see a completely different person—one there physically, but far removed in spirit.

In a better place.

Causing this in a classroom is possible, but is as often the result of good fortune than good planning. The best substitutes that can masquerade as curiosity are dutiful compliance and engagement. Neither of these are curiosity, which has among its sources a strong sense of volition, accountability, and curiosity.

Here, let me try.

I want to show you what I can do.

I want to know.

And that last one—a sign of curiosity–is a bugger, one we’ve talked about before. Like the caffeine in coffee, the chords on a guitar, or the wet in water, genuine curiosity is not a thing, it’s the thing.

Not temporarily wanting to know, or being vaguely interested in an answer, but being able to put together past experience and knowledge like the millions of fibers on a network–only to be maddeningly stopped from branching further without understanding or knowing this one bit.

Like stopping an incredible movie right at the climax—that awful, crazy feeling inside would be unfulfilled curiosity—and it’d just kill you not to know. But where does it come from?

And can you consistently cause it in a learner?

If formal learning environments driven by outcomes-based systems have taught us nothing else, it’s that while we often can “cause” something to happen in learner, it is only by considerable effort, resources, and angst.


But we certainly can create ideal conditions where natural curiosity can begin to grow. What we do when it happens—and disrupts our planned lessons and tidy little units—is another story altogether.

5 Things That Make Students Curious

1. Revisit Old Questions

The simplest curiosities arise from old questions that were never fully answered, or that no attempt to answer was made.

Of course, any question worth its salt is never ‘fully answered’ any more than a good conversation is ever finished, but as we learn and reflect and grow, old answers can look positively awkward, as they are bound by old knowledge.

Strategy to actuate: Revisit old questions—through a journal prompt, Socrative discussion, QFT (Question Formulation Technique), or even a fishbowl discussion. And also revisit the thinking from the first go-round to see what has changed.

2. Model & Promote Ambition

Ambition precedes curiosity. Without wanting to advance in position, thinking, or design, curiosity is simply a biological and neurological reaction to stimulus. But ambition is what makes us human, and its fraternal twin is curiosity.

Strategy to actuate: Well thought-out mentoring, peer-to-peer modeling, Project-Based Learning and a genuine ‘need to know.’

3. Play

A learner at play is a signal that there is a comfortable mind focused on a fully-internalized goal.

It may or may not be the same goal as those given externally, but play is hypnotic and more efficient than the most well-planned instructional sequence. A learner playing and learning through play, nearly by definition, is curious about something, or otherwise they’re simply manipulating bits and pieces mindlessly.

Strategy to actuate: Game-Based Learning and learning games and simulations like Armadillo Run, Civilization VI, Bridge Constructor, and Age of Empires all empower the learner to play. Same with Challenge-Based learning and other forms of learning.

4. The Right Collaboration At The Right Time

Seeing what is possible modeled by peers is powerful stuff for learners. Some may not be initially curious about content, but seeing what peers accomplish can be a powerful actuator for curiosity. How did they do this? How might I do what they did in my own way? Which of these ideas I’m seeing are valuable to me—right here, right now–and which are not?

Strategy to actuate: Grouping is not necessarily collaboration. To actuate collaboration, and thus curiosity, students must have a genuine need for another resource, idea, perspective, or something else otherwise not immediately available to them. Cause them to need something, not simply to finish an assignment, but to achieve the goal they set for themselves.

5. Use Diverse & Unpredictable Content

Diverse content is likely the most accessible pathway to at least a modicum of curiosity from learners. New projects, new games, new novels, new poets, new things to think about.

Strategy to actuate: Invite the learners to understand the need for a resource or bit of content and have them source it. Instant diversity class-wide, and likely divergence from where you were going with it all. At worst you’ve got engaged learners, and a real shot at curiosity.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

Continue Reading