Report: RAND Corp. Implementation Insights

Personalized Learning

Report: RAND Corp. Implementation Insights

Oct 28, 2017

Report: RAND Corp. Implementation Insights

This article is part of the guide: The Personalized Learning Toolkit.

In the third and most recent study in a multiyear analysis by non-profit think tank RAND Corp., researchers present a cautious report. John F. Pane, a senior scientist and the distinguished chair in education innovation at RAND, spoke about the comprehensive study of personalized learning in an interview with Education Week: "This may not work everywhere, and it requires careful thought about the context that enables it to work well."

In the study, published on July 11, 2017, RAND researchers report many approaches being used in the 40 Next Generation Learning Challenges schools surveyed for the study, but they deduced four broad, interdependent strategies that make up personalized learning programs:

  • Learner profiles maintain a rich and up-to-date record of student strengths, needs, goals and progress.
  • Personal learning paths provide appropriate and meaningful choices of material for each student to work on, with the necessary adult supports.
  • Competency-based progression enables these personalized paths to run their natural course by removing external constraints on what material each student works on, when and for how long.
  • Flexible learning environments enable schools to allocate resources in new ways to best support these processes.

Even with that framework, the researchers still reported it "difficult to clearly identify what makes a school a [personalized-learning] school." They said many management and instructional techniques closely resembled the techniques of the more-traditional schools used as a comparison group.

In the report, the researchers also identified strategies they consider central to personalized-learning models and shared recommendations for policy makers, implementers and funders.

The new findings are based on surveys, interviews, and focus groups with students, teachers and principals from the 40 participating schools. The schools are mostly urban and mostly charter, serving about 10,600 students; nearly all were students of color, and 80 percent were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

A few of the hard findings:

  • Students in personalized learning schools learned more in both math and reading than did a comparison group. This was consistent with RAND’s 2015 findings.
  • Students who started further behind in math showed more advancement than those in the more traditional schools; it was a more pronounced improvement for those in personalized-learning situations over multiple years.
  • Test scores rose, though less than in the 2015 study.

Some of their soft findings:

  • Both personalized-learning schools and their more traditional counterparts struggled to offer students choice in the topics and materials they studied.
  • The personalized-learning schools wrestled with a lack of high-quality digital instructional materials.
  • When left to move at their own pace through classroom lessons many students went too slow, multiple teachers said.
  • Teachers frequently said they didn't have enough time to develop customized lessons for each student; however, they appeared to have made more time for one-on-one instruction.
  • Teachers reacted more quickly to students’ individual needs based on data about where each student stood.

The studies are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Download the foundation’s fact sheet for a sunny summary of the results. The Rand highlights are here with the full report available. Additionally, Rand has reports and commentaries that examine both the implementation and progress of personalized learning practices.

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