Which Personalized Learning Framework is Best For You and Your School?

Which Personalized Learning Framework is Best For You and Your School?


Early in my teaching career I taught eighth and ninth grade English in a small classroom that had nothing more than a chalkboard, ceiling fan, and about twenty-five attentive pairs of eyes looking up at me for guidance five hours each day. One simple retention technique I used regularly was to “personalize” my examples for vocabulary, grammar, etc. with the names of students from the class and local context. No one cared about Jonny in our grammar workbooks, but they did care about the crazy, unpredictable examples I would come up with using people and things we knew. And if you would have asked me or my students about their experience, everyone would have naively told you, “Yes, Mr. Liang personalizes our learning.”

More than a decade later, I have to laugh at how poorly I used to define “personalized learning”. Changing a few proper nouns in an exercise or buying an adaptive digital product doesn’t qualify your classroom as a personalized learning environment. But unfortunately, “personalized learning” has become a popular catch-all phrase in education, especially edtech, and is used without restraint in school practices, advertisements, and publications. It has become a marketing trap and lacks any real substance when you reach real teaching practice.

People are carrying out “personalized learning initiatives” without properly defining what that even is, and the quality of students’ learning experiences is suffering. It’s important to set standards for what you and your organization mean when you say, “we are doing personalized learning,” because it will keep you on course and allow you to define a vision of success. It will also enable you to know when you have fallen short in certain areas as you navigate the challenges of innovating in schools; it’s hard work!

Through our early work at LEAP Innovations, personalized learning pathways, competency-based progression, learner profiles, student agency, and flexible environments have emerged as key considerations. Here are PL frameworks to get you started--you’ll see some overlapping concepts in the field. Start by distributing these to your leadership team for reading, and then sit down to discuss what which frameworks or characteristics resonate with your values, your vision for your graduates, and your local context. This is not a simple curriculum debate; it’s a realignment or rewriting of what you believe education can and should be. Enjoy!

Montessori Method

Who are they? The Association Montessori International (AMI) and American Montessori Society (AMS) both base their frameworks off the Montessori Method developed in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori from observations of children from birth to adulthood.

What’s their framework or frameworks? AMI and AMS focus deeply on the relationship among the teacher, the child, and the environment. Children are respected as individuals and the learning experience is designed to foster growth towards independence and social responsibility.

Why would I use this framework over others? There are many public misconceptions around a Montessori classroom, but it is actually a very orderly and purposefully designed environment, curriculum, and role for the teacher. Learning more can help you understand methods to create freedom within limits, intentional development of life skills, and the interplay between learner choice and curriculum options.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Who are they? CAST is an educational research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals.

What’s their framework or frameworks? Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. It consists of three main areas: engagement, representation, and action and expression. Engagement focuses on the affective network of the brain and the need for purposeful, motivated learners through multiple means of engagement. Representation focuses on perception, language, and comprehension strategies during the delivery of content. Action and expression highlights physical action, communication, and executive functions.

Why would I use this framework over others? The UDL guidelines are a well established approach to curriculum design and providing the proper considerations for all learners. They can help you evolve from “dumbing down” curriculum to creating their right scaffolds that allow you to maintain rigorous learning experiences that are accessible to all

The Institute at CESA #1

Who are they? The Institute at CESA #1 was established to work with member school districts in Southeastern Wisconsin to establish personalized learning as the prevailing approach to educating youth. They provide a wide range of professional development and hold an annual conference.

What’s their framework or frameworks? CESA #1 created a “honeycomb” representation of the pathways to personalized learning school design, and it moves teams through core components, learning and teaching, relationship and roles, and structures and policies. Their three core components to get started with personalized learning are learner profiles, custom learning paths, and proficiency-based progress.

Why would I use this framework over others? The framework provides a clear starting point for personalized learning and how schools or classrooms can move along a continuum. It can help you sort through the many factors at play and realize how structures and policies are actually the last step in the design of a personalized learning environment and need to align with large core values.

Personalize Learning LLC

Who are they? Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara Bray lead personalizelearning.com and provide on-going thought leadership and training around personalizing learning, including their book Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why. They are well experienced educators with backgrounds in UDL, educational technology, and creative learning strategies.

What’s their framework or frameworks? Their framework merges UDL, learner voice and choice, creative environments, intrinsic motivation, and educational technology in a cohesive approach that builds off of learner profiles.

Why would I use this framework over others? Kathleen and Barbara pull apart personalized, differentiated, and individualized learning in very articulate ways that will help you and your team be more clear in your communications. Their incorporation of UDL and learner voice and choice will also help you understand personalized learning in a very concrete, classroom-applicable manner.

Temple University

Who are they? Temple University is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has a college of education and multiple centers dedicated to research in education.

What’s their framework or frameworks? Published in 1998, their Adaptive Learning Environment Model (ALEM) is an innovative educational program to meet the diverse social and academic needs of students. Its core design elements are the following: individualized progress plans, diagnostic-prescriptive monitoring system, classroom instruction-management system, data-based professional development program, school-based restructuring process, and family involvement program.

Why would I use this framework over others? ALEM acknowledges professional development and family/community as core strategies to achieve a personalized learning experience. It can help you recognize the diversity of factors that can be incorporated into your design of your PL model..

LEAP Innovations

Who are they? (Full disclosure, I work at LEAP). LEAP Innovations is a non-profit that bridges the gap between education and innovation for teachers and students pre-K through college. They work with forward-thinking teachers, principals, entrepreneurs, and companies to identify, implement, and evaluate personalized learning techniques and edtech products based on the schools’ needs.

What’s their framework or frameworks? LEAP Innovations focuses on competency-based progression, personalized learning pathways, learner profiles, student/learner agency, and flexible environments.

Why would I use this framework over others? LEAP Innovations has a unique position with their work across different areas and a heavy focus on research. Their framework can help you understand what’s necessary by leaders and teachers to create an environment that enables learners to take more ownership and play an active role in their education.

I also would be sure to check out the framework by Next Generation Learning Challenges (NLGC), New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF), and iNACOL. There are many exciting people in this field--check out EdSurge’s full “resources to get started” list to rev up personalized learning in your classroom today.

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