Personalized v. Adapted Learning

I am a big fan of student-centric learning but recognize that technology isn’t at a place yet to deliver on all of the promises. On the first examination, the adaptive model is the first step towards personalized learning, or is it vice versa? I’m not sure that the adaptive model is an end, but rather a means.

A bit of history

When I was in high school, my Chemistry teacher ran a program that was student centric, however back in the ’80’s, we barely had computers, let alone laptops. So the program went something like this

  • Students chose a “program level” at the beginning of the year and this was incentivized with better “program-based” grades. If one chose a bigger program, one had to work faster to get through the material.
  • Students picked up outline pages for each subtopic which listed the activities that were to be completed. At the end of each subtopic, there was a self-test that had an 80% pass threshold.
  • Subtopics were handed in to the teacher for review and comment.
  • Again there was a test at the end of the unit and any lab reports had to be handed in.
  • The teacher seldom spoke to us all as a group. He more often had students at the front asking questions or getting clarification on how to re-do some work; so this resulted in a lot of one to one teaching and learning for the ones who needed it when they needed it.

This meant that the teacher had to have materials always available for the fastest students, and then the others would follow along. It also meant that during any given lesson there would be a variety of student activities. The slower groups also knew who had already done the work and would often ask for advice.

Was this model adaptive or personalized? – probably neither, but it was a step away from the monolithic teacher-driven education of the day.

Computers will change the world

Now we have the chance to have the same situation using computer technology to create a bespoke learning program for students, but is it all that different?

The thing that strikes me is that between adaptive learning and personalised learning, there still needs to be a teacher at some point for the majority of the students.

My chemistry teacher managed to build his own program by collecting work, generating worksheets, quizzes, tests and practical exercises, and all he needed to put it into effect was will power and a fancy filing system. He controlled the nature of the content, the tasks and the assessments.

Looking at this model through the lens of our reading material this week, it seems that this served to address at least one aspect of the Adaptive / Personalised Learning systems in that the students could choose the pace. However, I think it is naïve to believe that a student could choose whatever they want to learn when they want. There have to be some standards and vision of educational goals applied at some point, if not just for the student’s own well being.

My concern is that this is not replicable by the average teacher using technology. Teachers have to not only be at the top of their content game but also need a significant amount of training and vision (see TPACK) about how they could build this themselves; otherwise, we are at the feet of the big companies who will sell us a “one-size-fits-all” learning platform. So in moving towards a student-centric and away from an monolithic framework, we are forced into the big-brother-educational-industrial complex even more.

I really identified with reading this week as there were some more balanced opinion pieces. Sloan & Anderson make a good case for the changing, but necessary role of the teacher​(Sloan & Anderson, 2018)​. I like how CTU uses the existing Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This is attractive to teachers who are practical beings and want to use existing technologies to extend into SAMR

The other important reference for me this week was in Education Week by Benjamin Herold, where he states:

The researchers behind the most comprehensive ongoing study to date of personalized learning describe their latest findings as a “cautionary tale” about a trend whose popularity far outpaces its evidence base.

​(Herold, 2017)​

So often in the last few years, there have been a variety of technological advances that either I or my colleagues have embraced only to have the service discontinued, the file system corrupted or mergers or the like rendering the files we have generated into a colossal waste of time. It’s very hard to invest one’s time in the development of resources and have it constantly up-ended. (Hence my “Cautious Optimist” a few weeks ago.

I worry that it will be a bumpy road.

My two questions are

Do you use any Adaptive or Personalized learning systems in your school?

How do we facilitate the leap of faith required by teachers to relinquish control and the centre stage?

  1. Herold, B. (2017, July 18). Personalized Learning: “A Cautionary Tale.” Retrieved May 5, 2019, from Education Week website:
  2. Sloan, A., & Anderson, L. (2018, June 18). Adaptive Learning Unplugged: Why Instructors Matter More than Ever. Retrieved May 5, 2019, from Adaptive Learning Unplugged: Why Instructors Matter More than Ever website:

2 thoughts on “Personalized v. Adapted Learning

  1. I like your student-centered learning, actually, this should be the mindset for every teacher. I think your chemistry teacher is an encouraged person that wants to see each student to perform their best.
    I consider myself using the personalized learning for I have small size class. Depending on the students I receive every year, I tweet my grading policy and lesson plan a little bit differently. For example, one year, I had four students with ADHD sitting in the classroom. Their attention span and learning styles are varied. I allowed them to submit the work according to their own learning path. I had to admit that I was not sure if I was doing the “right” thing. Was the grading fair to all students? Did those students learn what they need to learn? I also told the students that I am to help them learn not to fail them, and I encouraged them to talk to me and come out the solution. I kind of customized a learning path for those “special students”.
    In my opinion, it takes time for teachers to design and monitor student-centred learning. We could design a way of assessment that can demonstrate student’s learning integration, like presentation based on the e-portfolio, or a designed project of topic.

  2. Hi Cam
    I really like your recollection of learning while you were at school. It happens sometimes- we’re completing grad studies in 2019, and we think “hey, that’s kind of like what this one teacher did way back in 19…!”
    My school uses Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests from NWEA. This is an adaptive system, in that the difficulty of the test questions fluctuates according to the user’s ongoing progress. However while it uses tech and is adaptive, it probably can’t be described as true “adaptive learning” because, well, it tests rather than teaches. It’s the closest example we have, though.
    Regarding the leap of faith to relinquish control: that comes down to the school climate. A leader needs to create a climate where staff feel trusted. This can be achieved by providing autonomy and avoiding micromanagement. Once a culture of trust is evident, staff will feel more inclined to take these leaps of faith without fear of failure.

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