How to Create Personalized Learning Experiences

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Tips for creating personalized learning lessons and assessments
"Personalized learning is all about empowering students to work in the way that’s best for them. That means harnessing topics and areas of inherent or developing interest to keep kids engaged and motivated to invest."

When teachers and schools first begin to implement Personalized Learning, they quickly realize that designing individualized lessons and assessments requires different mindsets and approaches than the traditional method of “teaching the room.” Here’s a quick checklist or procedure that teachers can use to guide their thinking as they shift towards creating personalized learning experiences.

1. Determine Knowledge/Skill Targets
For any learning experience - personalized or otherwise -  to be purposeful, it must have a clear focus on the development of a given skill, the acquisition of certain knowledge or the refinement of a learner’s existing toolkit. Learners thrive in transparent situations and understand the path to success best when there are clear goals in place.

Your personalized learning experience could be built around any number of targets: a particular Common Core standard, one of the qualities in your district’s Vision of the Graduate, or simply a personal learning goal identified by the student. Regardless of what kind of learning experience you’re creating, starting with specific learning targets in mind clarifies the process for both teachers and learners.

2. Find the Ideal Access Point
Personalized learning is all about empowering students to work in the way that’s best for them. That means harnessing topics and areas of inherent or developing interest to keep kids engaged and motivated to invest. Providing each learner with an access point that’s tailored for them is like providing each student with a roadmap to school that starts at their own address.

Determining access points can be one of the trickiest parts of the process for teachers and students who are new to personalized learning. However, surveys, interest inventories and digital tools like Learner Profiles provide great avenues for teachers and students alike to gain insight into what motivates and interests each learner.

3. Account for Strengths & Weaknesses
Successfully transitioning students toward learning in a personalized manner requires a strong understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses on the part of both the teacher and the learner. Although those conversations might often have seemed awkward in the context of the traditional classroom, building a full metacognitive understanding of each learner is crucial to the success of personalized learning.

Through building self-knowledge about strengths, learners become more empowered in the classroom as well as daily life, and teachers gain insight on subtle ways they can steer the learning process to maximize results. On the other hand, understanding weaknesses helps both stakeholders understand what strategies or approaches will be most effectively for the learner and which challenges should be anticipated and proactively planned for. Again, tools like Learner Profiles can be extremely helpful in gathering and housing these insights.

4. Prioritize Learning Over Teaching
One of the biggest pitfalls of PL rollout is mistaking personalized teaching for personalized learning. The whole point of the personalized approach is to build authentic feelings of accomplishment and allow students to figure out how to make the world work for them. Over-teaching can actually impede that process!

It’s understandably difficult at first, but once a teacher has agreed with a student about the general goals, shape and access point of a learning experience, one of the best things to do is step away and let learning happen. While teacher support is clearly always a key piece of the educational puzzle, the more independence you can provide students, the more likely they are to engage and make the learning process their own.

5. Assess in a Personalized Manner
If students are learning in an individualized manner, they must be assessed in an individualized manner as well. That means thinking past the “one size fits all” rubric and assessing the results of personalized learning experiences in a way that focuses on the original goal, gives voice to the student journey and accounts for process and not just product.

While they were often sticky wickets in the traditional classroom, student reflection and self-assessment can become huge pieces of the puzzle in a personalized learning environment. These practices help fully develop metacognitive skills and keep students focused on thinking about their own mind, their own abilities and ways they might continue to improve. As teachers become more experienced in the PL realm, they often find that, over time, student insights actually become more critical and more focused on meaningful improvement than even their own.