Sunday, 28 March 2010

Personalisation; moving forward on another front

Personalised learning means different things to different people. A lot of the debate focuses on who personalises the learning; the teacher for the learner, or the learner for themselves. Despite this polarisation, there would appear to be some agreement on what characteristics the ‘learner’ might have.

They will be self motivated and self regulated, making decisions about what they need to learn, how and when they learn; they will have a ‘say’ in the design of their learning experiences. They will be ‘active’ learners who value their own ideas and respect those of others; they will have the confidence an ability to put their ideas forward; they will reflect on their learning, identifying how they can improve. They will exercise choice as they develop as independent, lifelong learners.

Personalisation recognises that the learner is an individual and that it is no longer acceptable to provide or target ‘education’ at a group; that ‘one size’ does NOT ‘fit all’ learners, and that ‘traditional’ teaching, a practice primarily designed with economy of the teaching resource in mind, does not promote personalised learning. Personalisation acknowledges a need to open up education to learners who had previously been ‘left behind’ and that “more tailored approaches for learners” are required if we are to improve the ‘education offer’ available to our learners, a system that would better address the “disparities that see so many groups of learners, often the most vulnerable, fail to thrive and succeed.”

The need to cater for those learners that have been ‘left behind’ adds weight to the argument for creating a system that recognises and addresses the needs of individual learners. Catering for the need of this group of learners “is critical in working towards a society where a child’s chances of success are not limited by their socio-economic background, gender, ethnicity or any disability.” Personalised learning is promoted as something that can support the aspiration that all learners should have an entitlement to an education and to learning opportunities that are relevant, appropriate and accessible.

Until now it appears that most of the ‘personalisation’ experimentation and curriculum development has focussed on Yesterday’s, classroom-rooted learners. Learners who followed the pre-planned journey that their teachers had planned for them, often reluctantly, often distracted by the media rich environment that they operate in. Perhaps an unacceptable generalisation, but, progress towards personalised learning, with this group of learners appears to be quite slow.

With this back-drop, might it not now be useful to focus on a different group of learners; a group that does not operate in a traditional classroom; a group that are themselves looking towards technology to support them with their learning? Why not direct effort and resource towards home-based learners and explore how the developing social tools and technology might support their ‘personalised’ learning? We might be able to distil something from this experience that, in turn, might help the classroom-rooted learner.

“A central feature of any model of personalising learning is the focus on building the confidence and capacity of the individual learner – in a sense empowering the learner”.

A Starting point


  1. Thanks John a very thoughtful and perceptive article. Two comments:
    1. To what extent do you think perhaps the views of personalising learning are 'polarised' or perhaps part of a journey the learner takes? Starting with learning being personalised working through the path you describe to taking the responsibility to personalise for themselves.
    2. Also interested about the needs of the group 'ahead of the rest' - what do you think are the characteristics of this group? Are some the same? Do these learners too need to be empowered?

    Finally the last two links don't seem to be working.


  2. Thanks Andy - I have corrected the first of the broken links, it might put the post into 'context' - the second NCSL document looks to have moved, I will endeavour to track in down.

    I do see that 'teaching' will begin by personalising the learning for the learner and that, hopefully we will end up moving to a position where the learner is then able to take over and personalise their own learning. Unfortunately, 'teaching' still appears to be the major emphasis with 'learner personalisation' well behind.

    Re: groups - yes, need to be empowered as 'communities?