Adventures in Learning

Q: How can I personalise learning for 40 students? A: YOU can’t… but THEY can !

Personalisation vs Individualisation

Time to remind everyone of the difference between individualisation and personalisation.2018-03-24 07_11_39-PersonalizationvsDifferentiationvsIndividualization

  • Individualised learning is basically designed by the teacher/learning professional around the needs of the learner. The instructor customizes the learning experience for the learner, defining an individualised learning path.
  • Personalised learning starts with the learner needs. The learner then plays a key roles in the choice of what is learned and how it is to be learned. The learner is a co-designer.

The distinction goes much further, and the article by Bray and McClaskey is a reference.

How can I do that?

  • Personalisation requires engaged, motivated and mature learners.  This does not mean it can’t be for young persons, but the learning skills and motivation have to be established. Note that personalisation via learner « voice » is in fact a key way to develop learner motivation. Before you turn students loose on personalisation, make sure the skills are there.  Work on developing self-directed learning skills – goal setting, planning, controlling learning, evaluating learning. Self-regulation, internal locus of control and self-efficacy are things to look for and develop. You may want to start with learning teams and structure the process at the start. Check out the SDL site to see more.
  • Personalisation requires potential resources and activities.  Here teachers/faculty can play a role by providing, for example,  recommended digital resources. Your LMS should allow you to offer a wide range of resources to your learners. If you want to make things more interesting, have the learners propose resources and activities collectively (peer generated learning resources/activities) or share in the identification of learning resources with your faculty colleagues (I’m always amazed that a co-created/shared list of faculty recommended resources and activities isn’t defined/maintained by each faculty department. How do YOU work as a team to identify activities and share across courses?).
    No matter what, helping students identify potential resources and activities to personalize the learning is always good.  Using an LMS to just distribute your Powerpoint deck is not enough. Schools should require that more be made available.

    • A really neat application is Peerwise, which helps students create the self study quiz questions. Or use Brainscape, and challenge students to create flash cards and share them.

This is a nice reminder that resources and activities are clearly 2 different things. Uploading videos, articles, websites to your LMS is one thing. Creating engaging activities with these resources is another. More on that in another post.


  • Focus on changing/managing the learning environment and culture. I think one of the hard parts for teachers is « letting go »..and placing someone else behind the wheel. When instructors design courses, the learning path is logical and effective in their mind/opinion … »to learn X the learner must first do A, then review understanding with B, then self test, …« . Placing yourself in a context where others are in charge – can be frightening. The way a learner will meet the goal may be quite different from what the instructor had in mind. Also, learners will make mistakes – and instead of jumping in – we need to let them learn from the mistakes. This is a change in the classroom or learning culture.

    Lyman (1997) and Bolhuis (1996) stress that teachers who want to encourage SDL must free themselves from a preoccupation with tracking and correcting errors, a practice that is ego threatening (Guthrie, et al. 1996). (source: Abudllah – Self Directed Learning)

  • Don’t expect it to work the first time.  Be ready to fail and learn from the failure.

    “In the early stages of implementing personalized learning it was important that I knew it was ok if an idea failed as long as I was taking steps to move forward in personalizing students’ learning. The administration at my school built a culture in which teachers felt comfortable trying new things without fear of failure.” (excerpt from The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers)

The Final Word

I think that personalized learning is quite challenging for faculty.  It places the instructor/professor in a different role than we are used to.  We become facilitators of learning.  We hand over the design to the learner.  We build the « cooking skills », we supply the cook with a supply of « ingredients » and then stand back and let them cook. But for many faculty, the cooking, and designing of the « plat de resistance » is what excites is exciting and often rewarding.  I have also learned over the years that many people become professors because they like to  .. learn.

Just like many examples in leadership, the challenge may not be on the learner, but rather on the changes that the professor is ready to accept. Are we (as I have been a professor for quite some time) ready to take on the new role and let go of the past?

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