Personalized Learning - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Instructional Approaches

Personalized Learning

The Challenge

Educators have to adapt instruction to meet students on all points of the learning continuum, with different strengths and backgrounds. Given this learner variability, teachers are challenged to differentiate lessons and to individualize learning for each student, while simultaneously keeping the overall level of expectation and rigor in classrooms high. Educators also grapple with the best ways to keep track of student progress, and how to involve students in their own learning and data management. While many districts across the country have been working to implement personalized learning, there is still a lack of coherent training, models, and tools to support districts in personalizing learning for each student, leaving some districts unsure what personalization should look like in their schools and classrooms and how to accomplish this goal.

In the Words of District Leaders

I think one of the things that we still struggle with conceptually is: ‘What does personalized, digital learning look like? What should it feel like when I see it happening in my school and in my classroom, what does it look like at home?’

“We have a wide range of learners and even the most highly-skilled teacher can only differentiate to a certain point. So, how can we personalize learning in let’s say, a six grade classroom where three kids are reading at a third grade level and five kids are reading at an eighth grade level, and then everyone else is somewhere relatively in-between, near grade level? That’s a tall order.

“Part of the challenge that I have in my district providing teachers the opportunity to experience the type of personalized learning that we want for them to be delivering in their classroom and for them to develop a skill set in that.”

Ideas from the Field

  • One district is building software that will incorporate not only a student’s personalized learning needs based on assessment and curriculum, but also their career interests. The program will help students identify what they individually need to do to pursue their personalized career goals.
  • Another district shared that their emphasis on students owning their own data has been essential to progress – that any student can show what they’ve been working on, their strengths and areas for growth, and importantly this also creates a document backbone so schools can compare across the district.
  • Some districts are implementing an evidence-based initiative aimed at supporting individual students who are not traditional high performers, who do not test into gifted programs, who are the first in their families to consider college. The initiative helps teachers facilitate inquiry-based, student-centric classrooms that set these students up for success after graduation.
  • Some districts are exploring how personalized learning impacts the likelihood of students not just entering but persisting in post-secondary education. Districts are also asking important questions about personalized learning that will guide implementation in coming years.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about implementing personalized learning:

Learner Variability Project – From Digital Promise, this site provides research-based models to help educators and developers understand each learner and create innovative products that support learner variability.

Personalized Learning for All – From Digital Promise, this series of papers explores how advances in research increase our understanding of learning variability.

Getting Started with Personalized Learning – From iNACOL, resources for education leaders, teachers and policymakers looking to redesign K-12 education around student learning with personalized learning and competency education.

LEAP Innovations – From LEAP Innovations, this site helps educators discover new tools and resources to bring personalized learning to life in their classrooms.

Teaching & Learning Practices: Personalization – The Learning Accelerator’s collection of nearly 100 specific strategies for implementing student-centered instructional approaches that individualize learning for each student based on specific strengths, needs, interests, and goals.

Student-Centered Classroom Culture & Design Instructional Strategies – BetterLesson offers more than 40 specific strategies focusing on how to develop a collaborative classroom culture in which all students feel safe, respected, and empowered to drive their own learning.

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