Monday, September 24, 2012

Blended Learning is Not the Only Way to Personalize Learning

Blended learning means offering a combination of face-to-face and online learning opportunities to learners. Blending these learning opportunities can contribute to personalizing learning. However, blended learning is not the only approach that personalizes learning. Personalizing learning starts with the learner. This means that learners have a stake in their learning by taking responsibility for their learning. When they own and drive their learning, they are more motivated to want to learn. In a learning environment that starts with the learner, teacher and learner roles change.

The research at the Students at the Center ( wrote nine reports on student-centered learning. Eric Toshalls, Ed.D., and Michael Nakkula, Ed.D. in one report, wrote the research on “Learning Theory: Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” that described:

The Trifecta of Student Centered Learning

Motivation - Without motivation, there is no push to learn
Engagement - Without engagement, there is no way to learn
Voice - Without voice, there is no authenticity in learning

“For students to create a new knowledge, to succeed academically, and to develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences.”
Toshalls and Nakkula

Technology, especially mobile devices, allows learning to feel more personal. Everything is at your fingertips. In fact, there are thousands of new apps and online courses available every day. If a school does not offer a class, you can take it online. Textbooks are going digital which will make a difference in access to content for many learners. Learning objects and games can build skills that engage learners in the content. Learners are more connected than ever before. Being connected to the content offers opportunities for anyone to learn anywhere anytime. With so much content readily available, much of it can be a distraction. A teacher as a partner in learning can help facilitate learning.

Blending learning offers learning opportunities that are usually not available in a traditional classroom. Personalized learning is built on relationships. Educational researchers from Brown University (2000) set out to define “personalized learning” based on events occurring in a regular school day, assembling into categories that might explain how schools can organize themselves to personalize learning for all students. They identified six categories of supportive interactions across all schools, each reflecting a developmental need of students.

Reference:  Chapter 10 of the publication, “Making Learning Personal: Educational Practices That Work” by John Clarke and Edorah Fraizer

This research demonstrated how learner’s personal needs can be met as flexible options for engaged learning. They determined that when you take into account how learners learn best based on their needs, talents, and aspirations and there is a learning environment that trusts and respects each learner, the learner self-directs their learning to find their purpose and goals for learning.

“Historically, most classrooms have been ‘curriculum-centered’ rather than ‘student-centered.’ The core elements of the curriculum is most schools-textbooks and related print materials - are fixed, standardized, uniform, one-size-fits-all, but students on the other hand, are anything but uniform or standardized.” [Curricular Opportunities Digital Age. Students at the Center by David H. Rose, Ph.D and Jenna W. Gravel, March 2012]

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Personalized learning as described in the research at Brown is built on the framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is based upon decades of brain-research and neuroscience of individual differences, human variability and on how we learn. UDL is often thought about how it relates to special education, but to dispel that myth, the UDL principles is about how we understand how every learner learns.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (

If you start with the learner by considering their interests, passions, aspirations, and talents and use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles:
  • how the learner accesses content
  • how they engage with that content
  • how they express what they know
then the learner self-directs and self-regulates their learning. When this happens, teacher roles change.

Voice and Choice
Being connected to technology does not always mean the learner has a voice and choice in what and how they learn. The culture of traditional school with bell schedules, pacing guides, and standardized tests doesn’t allow for flexibility in instructional practice. There are blended learning environments that offer multiple stations with highly structured rotation schedules and opportunities for teachers to provide intervention strategies based on data. In most cases, these rotation schedules are fit into existing bell schedules. Just putting students in front of a computer or mobile device that keeps track of performance based on algorithms is not personalizing learning. The teacher or the technology “personalizes” the learning for the learner.

When you use Universal Design for Learning principles for all learners, they have a voice in choosing how they access, engage and express the content. In a structured, blended learning environment, the teacher manages the schedules and uses data to provide intervention strategies. Blended learning can contribute to a personalized learning environment if there are flexible schedules and learners are involved in the design of their learning.

Partners in Learning
Maybe it’s all about semantics. Change the word “student” to “learner” and think about the teacher as a guide or facilitator of learning. Being a student implies that learning starts with the curriculum and is done to you. Being a learner means that learning is self-directed and can happen anywhere and anytime. As a partner in learning, the teacher is a co-designer and co-learner with their learners. Terms tend to get lost in translation because “personalized” means something different to different organizations. Consider that learning is “personal” when it starts with the learner. A personalized learning environment can be where the teacher is a partner in learning with their learners if learning starts with the learners.

Does “flipping the classroom” personalize learning? Flipping the classroom means that teachers are uploading their lectures and content for students to review, study, and learn outside of the classroom. This leaves the classroom time to discuss, experiment, and collaborate on projects. Flipping the classroom is still teacher-directed but it is moving in the right direction. Learning is more collaborative and starting to be less passive. Learning needs to be active so it is challenging, rigorous and engaging. To have learning more active, teachers and learners as partners in learning can co-design lessons and assessment strategies and flip lessons together. They can use assessment as learning to reflect on their learning as it happens instead of waiting until a quiz or end of year test.

All of this can happen more effectively when each learner has technology that provides access to the content with a teacher as a learning guide. Technology can support assessment as learning in multiple forms: games, learning objects that provide ongoing checks for understanding, publishing online, collaborative projects, and reflection on evidence of learning as ePortfolios. Technology can engage learners in the learning process so they own and drive their learning. Personalized learning environments start with the learners, not the curriculum nor the technology.

Consider starting with the learners who co-design how they blend online and face-to-face learning with their teachers as partners in learning.


  1. It is really a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this.

  2. Personalizing learning starts with the learner. This means that learners have a stake in their learning by taking responsibility for their learning.


Join us in the conversations and share your feedback: