Getting started with Personalized Learning
This guide, developed by Gabriel Flacks, Champlain College, Saint Lambert Humanities Professor and
Co-Founder of linkreducation.com, explains why personalized instruction improves
learning outcomes and provides tips to help easily personalize instruction.
What is Personalized Learning?
Personalized Learning is an approach to teaching that encourages and enables each student to participate in the shaping of a course. In a classroom that embraces Personalized Learning, the instructor recognizes and responds to each student’s style and tailors course material and assessments to their interests and needs. Personalized Learning requires a pedagogical strategy that provides each student conditions to maximize their potential for learning based on their individual skills, backgrounds, and interests.
This approach to teaching and learning is intuitive, insofar as it is self-evident that learning happens most effectively when the learner is engaged and involved with material. However, it is also empirically justified and steeped in the history of educational philosophy. In a personalized class, as each student is empowered to participate in shaping and applying course content, engagement with course material and assessments is increased, ratcheting up learning. Further, if implemented effectively, teachers who offer personalized courses benefit from dynamic courses and empowered students who do better in coursework, as well as authentically and organically evolving material.
Since there are benefits for teachers and students from personalizing classrooms, it seems that all classes should integrate personalization to achieve maximal learning. However, this approach has historically been difficult to offer in most traditional educational contexts, especially those that follow the “industrial” model of classroom design, where direct instruction in a lecture-style format is standard practice. As most teachers are expected to successfully teach to large classes, following uniform standards set by ministries, departments, and programs, personalized courses have been common to teachers with the luxury of teaching to small groups, such as liberal arts programs in elite colleges, in private preparatory schools, and in graduate seminars.
However, technological advancements are helping many more teachers and students to partake in Personalized Learning, in higher education, language schools, and high schools. It is becoming easier for teachers to offer students access to personalized learning, in one or several of the core aspects of course design: curriculum and content, classroom activities and assessments.
Choosing the right tools can help teachers easily bring personalized learning opportunities into large classes while:
- Not overloading teachers with additional work
- Not reducing personalization to rote methods and standardized options.
- Taking advantage of peer interactivity
- Taking advantage of the open nature of the internet, in the form of exploration and student-publication
Methods of Personalizing a Course
There are three key aspects of a course that can be personalized; any teacher/professor can personalize, one two, or all three areas of a class:
Let students choose, within reason, material that is part of a course’s curricular content. Allowing each student to focus on self-selected material, rather than predefining all course content in advance, increases engagement and flexibility. While a curriculum in a personalized class will maintain structure presented by the teacher, and the teacher can co-curate additional material, a curriculum supplemented by material chosen by the student increases interest for student and teacher alike.
In-class Activity and Lecture
Provide in-class activities with space for each student to explore personal interests and bring individual skills to projects. Group and individual work benefits from personalization. Find ways to make lectures dynamic and depend in part on the way individuals in the classroom work and share interests their.
Let students shape the assessments they create, improving completion rates and increasing student interest in the assessment itself; completed personalized assessments involve the students in the experience of completing the assignment, rather than just “getting it done”. If the assessment is co-created by the student, not only in content, but in structure, it increases the ownership of the final product.
Personalize your Curriculum and Content
Allow students to to participate in shaping the content of a curriculum; increase student buy-in and increase the time students spend working on course material.
Strategies to Personalize your Curriculum and Content
Let students master material not by just answering comprehension questions but by asking them to apply it via connecting it to other material. Cross-disciplinary and non-academic contexts are brought into class, making course content resonate and enabling a students personal situation to be associated with coursework. Students take course content and move it to arenas that are meaningful. Following the lead of thinkers like Paolo Freire and John Dewey, the personalized classroom offers material that is meaningful to the students in the room, not just to the teacher.
As teachers discover what is relevant to each student, themes can emerge and teachers can discover what issues and themes are relevant to students and then select material to bring into course lectures and activities that is guaranteed to resonate. And, as students each year arrive with their own back-stories, enabling this kind of interactive and dynamic curriculum can be more interesting for the teacher as well.
Personalize curriculum and content for free with linkr
linkr is a platform that offers access to tools tailored to teachers and students to support them in Personalizing curriculum and content:
Ask students to write short articles on issues that are in the news that relate to course content and are particularly meaningful to each individual- linkr will organize all students’ publications and make it easy to organize by tags and themes, so that further readings can be found to grab students interest.
- Features: a suite of online publishing options and scalable privacy settings on linkr, students can first share completed assignments only with a teacher, only with their class, with collaborating classes set-up by their teacher, or with the world.
Ask students to search for interesting peer-written content across the linkr network and comment on this material. Curriculum can then be easily modified to make courses as engaging as possible, without adding time into a teacher’s already busy schedule.
- Features; Teachers are provided an easy way to learn about students’ interests by tracking student interactions across the linkr network. Linkr provides students access to network of peers across the globe, across disciplines.
- Teachers can ask students to provide constructive feedback to students elsewhere on the planet, and then easily track such interactions.
- linkr also organizes and presents to teachers a summary of how students are engaging with content without having to browse each and every post
Personalize your In-Class Activities and Lectures
A personalized class can invite each student to participate in setting the direction of classroom experience.
So, a personalized lecture might provide students access to course content via multiple media, video, audio, social networks, and print; in a personalized course, each can be parts of course delivery and students can choose to learn material via a preferred medium.
Strategies to Personalize your lectures and in-class activities
Incorporating Personalized learning into the classroom can work well in a blended classroom model. By allowing devices into the classroom, students may spend some time in each class working independently, using online tools to allow for:
- in-class content exploration,
- Peer-collaboration with students both inside and outside of class
- synchronous or asynchronous communication with students in other courses and in other schools.
A class period can then be broken into lecture-style components and then individualized work which can be considered by the end of the class with the whole class.
With the right tools, teachers can benefit greatly without increased overhead by seeing engaged and creative student work emerging, as students apply course content in personalized ways during class time.
Connecting students with a network of collaborative partners can provide authentic ways where students engage with material during class time without leaving the room. The teacher can then bring what is happening via peer interactivity into lecture material.
Personalize Lecture and Classroom Activity for free with linkr
linkr is a platform that makes it easy to introduce personalized learning into a classroom, with access to a network of learners and a suite of publishing tools that can make class lectures and activities more engaging and meaningful to each student.
- Students can access a network of classes studying different content, which students can explore and interact with during class time.
- The teacher can see what is being considered across his students’ interactions, as they enjoy an independent active learning structure.
- “Chalk and talk” now may happen, but with personalized work taking place on linkr, applying course concepts to material that is engaging to each student for each student’s own reasons.
- Blended Learning can be integrated into courses smoothly and effectively. (link to next inbound page)
- Active Learning models can be integrated into courses smoothly and effectively. (link to next inbound page)
- Collaboration and Communication is fostered as students can navigate across content and classes using linkr from across the globe. This lets students connect course material to other interests and areas, so as to apply course content in personalized ways.
Personalized assessments allow each student to participate in the shaping of an assessment, not only in what the student completes, but in the format and requirements of an assessment.
Students might change the mode of assessment delivery, from in-class presentation to video, or from an academic essay to a portfolio-based website. Allowing some freedom in this context requires a student demonstrates content mastery and course competencies, but enables different students to demonstrate their learning in different manners.
A common, sometimes demanding assessment on the teacher, is to involve group assessments in a course. Each member of the group can showcase her own skill sets and capacities, taking advantage of specific skills and learning from other students who showcase their own skills and capacities. Online collaborations can allow students to try on new voices and develop new skills. Pairing such work with Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning approaches can also enhance this approach.
Strategies to Personalize your Assignments and Assessments
In a traditional course, a teacher presents a set of assignments which need to be completed as organized by the teacher. However, it is conceivable to set up this as a structure which each student can participate in reorganizing around their passions and interests. While each student might be required to do an oral presentation, allowing the weight of this assignment to vary by student can play to each students’ strengths. Further, enabling the oral component to be submitted via video can help students achieve more without compromising quality.
In lieu of an essay, a business ethics teacher might teach a concept like employee rights and laws. Students might be then asked to explore contemporary news and apply concepts from course material in the writing of case studies shared across the class. Some might choose to make this a multimedia submission, worth more marks, while others might save this for another assessment later in the semester that is more exciting. This kind of flexibility shows each student respect and also enables maximal success in school.
Offering students access to online publishing and peer collaboration tools dedicated to educational applications can make student work authentic and meaningful, allow students who are otherwise uncomfortable sharing their ideas to feel they have a voice, and offer the protections needed to let ideas be worked out without fear of judgment.
Personalize Assessments for free with linkr
linkr is a platform that makes it easy for students to personalize assessments, while also providing control to teachers so this doesn’t create endless work.
linkr provides each student a profile page that gathers all content the student submits to the platform as well all comments submitted on other students’ work. Further, each piece can be associated with an assignment, so students can choose which pieces of writing shared on linkr, whether or original or as constructive feedback for another linkr user, are associated with each assignment.
linkr also provides teachers with an organized view of all of their students’ content and comments associated with each assessment.
Teachers can ask students to write original content and apply course content in a manner that involves online publishing, scalable visibility of work, and access to students around the world for inspiration, encouraging personalized assignment completion with a meaningful audience.
For example, a Sociology Professor in Montreal, Quebec, teaching a course on social issues in Japan, can collaborate with a Law Professor in Japan, teaching a course in international law. Each class can then be sometimes assigned the task of writing original work, with the prospect of receiving comments from their partner class, and sometimes be assigned the task of giving constructive feedback to the partner class.
The exciting thing about this feedback loop is that original assignments have more purpose, as a sociology student could write about Japan and receive feedback from someone who lives there, while the law student could make a claim about how an issue is treated in Canada, before getting feedback from a student who is a native expert in such issues.
Assignments now are dynamic, authentic, and learning is ratched up. linkr changes the entire way homework unfolds, making students complete writing not in a vacuum, but as part of the linkr community. Assignments are personalized, meaningful, and due to linkr’s networking and assignment feature, this doesn’t add preparation/management time to teachers who have little time to spare.
Personalized learning is more accessible than at any time in history. It is an exciting time to be a teacher and to be a student as possibilities for enhanced learning experiences are more accessible than ever before. While many tools may claim to help personalize classrooms, linkr gives opportunities for flexible, teacher-guided, student-driven courses. Choose your own adventure and let students chart their own paths!
Click here to join the community of teachers and students bringing personalized coursework into their work and find many authentic examples of linkr can bringing personalized learning into classrooms, supporting a better teaching and learning experienceClick here to start using linkr for free!
Gabriel Flacks is a Humanities Teacher at Champlain College, Saint-Lambert since 2006. A PhD Candidate in Cognitive Science with an MA in Philosophy, Flacks has been imagining, designing and creating platforms since 2002. He implemented a space to allow his classes to collaborate with other classes around the world in 2012, a platform that quickly found thousands of users from many countries. Seeing the great need for such a platform, and noticing how few educational tools actually met teachers’ and students’ needs, he co-founded linkr in 2017.