2 Tutorials that teach Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction
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Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction

Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about personalized learning and differentiated instruction and how they differ. Each of these support competency-based education.

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In this tutorial, we'll compare and contrast personalized learning and differentiated instruction. We'll begin with a review of the features of personalized learning. And then, we'll review differentiated instruction. And finally, we'll compare and contrast the two. Let's get started.

Recall that personalized learning refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, or individualized; tailored to learning preferences, or differentiated; and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. Furthermore, in an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content, as well as the method and pace, may all vary. Here are some of the features of personalized learning.

Instruction in personalized learning can occur in one-on-one contexts or in small groups. Instruction should be both standards-based and competency-based, and the content presented is interesting, authentic, and relevant to students. A variety of resources are used in personalized learning, and technology is used with a clear purpose. This technology can be used to enhance both instructional time and independent work time. And movement is not restricted in a personalized learning environment. That is, students are allowed to move freely around the classroom, based on their unique learning needs.

The classroom environment has space for both independent work and group work, along with online opportunities and stations for hands-on work. And frequent formative assessments are used in a personalized learning environment. Retakes are available if students are not successful in demonstrating mastery on their first try with a particular assessment.

Next, let's look at differentiated instruction. Recall that differentiation involves making modifications to the content, the processes, the products, and the learning environment in the classroom. In differentiated instruction, teachers are addressing the standards and content, while keeping student interests and student readiness levels in mind. A differentiated classroom environment is student-centered and emotionally safe. This helps students to feel secure as they take both their individual differences and their unique learning challenges in stride.

Teachers who are implementing differentiated instruction will vary their instructional practices in order to accommodate their students' learning styles and readiness levels. Work in this type of environment may be assigned to individual students or to small groups. Again, this decision can be made according to student readiness levels, student interests, or learning profiles. Pre-assessments are used in a differentiated environment in order for teachers to be aware of what students already know, which then informs their decisions about instructional practices and strategies.

So you may be inclined to think that if you're differentiating your instruction, that automatically means that you're personalizing learning for your students, or vice versa, that if you are incorporating a personalized learning environment, that automatically means that you are successfully differentiating instruction. Though there is a significant amount of overlap between the two methodologies, there are some differences. So let's outline those.

While personalized learning is teacher- and student-designed, differentiated instruction is strictly teacher-designed. In differentiation, the teacher is making decisions about their instruction, based on the unique needs of the students and the components of those students' various learning profiles. But still, the control is completely in the hands of the teacher.

In personalized learning, on the other hand, the students are collaborating with the teachers in the design of the instruction. After all, we don't call it personalized instruction. We refer to it as personalized learning, because it is self-paced and really, truly tailored to the student's own unique learning preferences and interests.

In personalized learning, each student has his or her own unique learning goals or learning plans. Whereas in differentiated instruction, typically, all students are working towards meeting the same goals. And the instruction that is aimed to get students to achievement of those goals is what's differentiated. So in the personalized learning environment, the teacher and the student are working together to identify the goals and develop the learning plans that will help students meet those goals. Whereas in differentiated instruction, all students are working towards achieving the same standard, but the teacher may be varying the content, the processes, the products and the learning environment, in order to approach that content in different ways to help all students meet that same goal.

Next, in a personalized learning environment, it's not just teachers who provide the extra support that students may need. Additional support may be provided by experts, including other school personnel, and even students' peers. Whereas in differentiated instruction, the support is primarily provided just by the classroom teacher.

We can see how this approach in differentiated instruction really puts a lot of pressure on the classroom teacher. Because that one teacher is often responsible for supporting all of the students by being the sole provider of the different approaches, the instructional strategies, the processes, the presentation of content. The teacher is the one who is focusing on the student's learning profiles, promoting the demonstration of learning through the creation of various products, and supporting students, both in small groups and individually, during that instructional time.

The extended network of support that is involved in personalized learning takes some of that pressure off of the classroom teacher. Students are more involved and take more ownership in their own learning. It's no longer just the teacher who is looking at students' learning plans or the instructional goals, and making those informed decisions.

Finally, in personalized learning, assessment is used as part of the learning process. This is contrasted with the approach in differentiated instruction, where assessment informs learning, but is not used as part of the learning process. In a personalized learning environment, students are monitoring their own progress. They're more self-directed, and they're reflecting on their own learning based on the mastery of the competencies on their learning plan. Assessment is just one part of this learning process.

In contrast, in differentiated instruction, the teacher is definitely collecting formative and summative assessment data. But again, it's usually only the teacher who is examining that data and using it to make decisions. So the teacher is responsible for providing feedback to students. And the teacher is responsible for helping students to determine what to do with that information in order to improve their learning.

So we can see here that, though there are some similarities, the differentiated approach is much more teacher-centered, whereas personalized learning puts a lot more focus on the students themselves and their unique needs and abilities, and also helps students to take a lot more ownership of their own learning. It's important to note that differentiation techniques can absolutely be used as part of personalized learning. If you're differentiating a lesson for a particular learner by varying your teaching or your learning strategies, that definitely is one of the elements of personalizing learning for that student.

And also, realize that both approaches are competency-based. In a competency-based environment, students advance automatically to the next skill or competency on their learning plan as soon as they've demonstrated mastery of the previous competency or skill. Both personalization and differentiation help students to master competencies as a result of the increased engagement, the various prescriptive learning activities that are involved, and the wide variety of resources and supports that are provided in both methods.

In this tutorial, we reviewed both personalized learning and differentiated instruction. And then, we compared and contrasted the two approaches. Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Do you incorporate any personalisation or differentiation techniques into your classroom environment right now? Do you feel that your current approach is more student-centered or more teacher-centered?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly-acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction"

(00:00 - 00:20) Introduction

(00:21 - 01:49) Personalized Learning

(01:50 - 02:59) Differentiated Instruction

(03:00 - 07:57) Compare & Contrast

(07:58 - 08:06) Review

(08:07 - 08:41) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Updated Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization Chart Version 3

The Personalize Learning website provides a useful chart that outlines the similarities and differences between personalization and differentiation. These terms often become confused, yet have very real and important differences.

Five Minute Refresh: Comparing Personalized, Individualized, and Differentiated

This edSurge article explains the differences between personalization and differentiation.