To understand how personalized learning is different, let's consider three students' experiences.
Student A in Traditional Learning
Most of his teachers think of Student A as a “good student.” He participates in class every day, finishes his homework, and hands in his assignments on time. All of his work is done neatly and carefully, and his projects and papers look especially nice. When it comes time for tests, he usually feels prepared because he has done so much work, but even when he doesn’t score what he wants, he takes advantage of extra credit opportunities to keep his grade up.
Student A in Personalized Learning
Traditional classrooms usually worked well for Student A, and they still do, but he also knows that what is really important is learning. He knows what he needs to learn and has learned to set personal goals, so when he finishes assignments and projects he has more ways to self-assess than neatness and length. When he prepares for tests, he goes through what he needs to know and be able to do, and keeps working until he does. Sometimes that means doing less than the teacher has recommended, and sometimes it means doing more. More than being compliant, Student A is his own best advocate in the learning process.
Student B in Traditional Learning
Student B often gets encouraged to “apply herself.” A lot of the time, the content being covered in class is something she already knows, or she picks it up quickly and is bored. She often feels like the assignments in class are just busy work, and doesn’t see the point in assignments that ask her to do repetitive, overly structured tasks that don’t seem to connect to anything. She’s lucky that she can usually do well on tests without studying, but her work never looks as good as Student A and she never learns what it means to work hard at things.
Student B in Personalized Learning
The work that Kid B gets assigned makes sense to her because the link to learning goals is clear. Sometimes she thinks of better ways to frame her learning, and is able to create her own path to deeper learning. Even better, when she already knows the content, she isn’t stuck doing busy work to prove what she already knows. Because she gets to make some choices about what she is learning, her passions drive to put a lot of energy into her learning. She works very hard, although she doesn’t see it that way; she is just having fun.
Student C in Traditional Learning
Teachers often put comments like “works hard” on Student C’s report card, but he knows they’re just being nice. School has always been hard for Student C. Things don’t make sense in class, and so getting homework done is very hard. As time goes on, he falls further and further behind on assignments. He tries to make time to meet with the teacher before or after school to get help, but there never seems to be enough time. Each time he gets a list of all the work he has that is missing, he is reminded how hard school is, and it’s hard to stay hopeful that he can get caught up and do well. His lack of confidence is confirmed when he has to take tests.
Student C in Personalized Learning
Student C would’ve had struggled if he had to sit and listen to a teacher talk for his whole school career. Instead, there are a number of different ways he can interact with new content, and he has learned what works best for him. Even better, he and his teachers know right away if he didn’t understand a lesson, and a plan for more learning in different ways is made right away. When he gets work to do, he is confident about completing it. Sometimes in classroom discussions with Student A and Student B, his different way of looking at things gives them a new perspective, even when they thought they understood it.