6 Personalized Learning

Carrie Lewis Miller

Learning Objectives

  • Explain Adaptive Learning
  • Recommend Adaptive Learning Solutions for your own organizational context
  • Identify tools for use to create adaptive learning experiences
  • Create a -Mini Adaptive Learning Experience
  • Plan multiple methods of creating adaptive learning experiences

Personalized learning is a methodology which factors the learner’s strengths, needs, personal interests, and learning goals, into one learning environment. The term is often used synonymously with differentiation but there is a key difference between the two. Personalized learning gives learners agency over their own learning experience because personalized learning takes their needs and their own learning goals into account.

An operational definition of personalized learning was proposed by a group of organizations that have interests and or investments in education, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  This definition included elements such as a learner profile, a personal learning path, a competency-based curriculum, and a flexible learning environment (Cavanagh, 2014).

This approach, as with all student-centered approaches, requires the instructor to be a facilitator or guide rather than information giver. Methods, such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, or case-based learning are often used as content exploration methods under a personalized learning system.

In a personalized learning system, it is vital to understand learners’ prior knowledge as well as their strengths and academic weaknesses. As instructional designers, building in both self-assessments and opportunities for students and instructors to define the learners’ prior knowledge is vital to developing both the learner profile and the learning pathway.

The main component of personalized learning is the idea that the learners should have a sense of control over their own learning experience. Learner agency is created by the collaborative efforts of learner and instructor in defining learning goals and a path to those goals. Giving learners a voice in how they reach those goals empowers them and involves them in their own learning process. Combined with a flexible learning environment that gives them options in demonstrating competence or mastery over the learning goals is essential to this method.

Differentiation and performance assessment are both key components in creating these flexible learning environments. Technology is also making personalized learning more feasible for both instructors and students in all types of learning environments.



Cavanagh, S. (2014). What is “personalized learning”? Educators seek clarity. Education Week34(9), S2-S4.

Recommended Supplementary Material

  • Feldstein, M., & Hill, P. (2016). Personalized learning: What it really IS and why it really matters. EDUCAUSE Review, 51(2), 24. http://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/3/personalized-learning-what-it-really-is-and-why-it-really-matters
  • *Warning – Contains Simulated Video Game Violence*



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Game Based and Adaptive Learning Strategies by Carrie Lewis Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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