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What is Personalized Learning?


Whenever I have to define some concept, no matter if I am teaching it or trying to internalize it, aside from reading theoretical articles, I go back to dictionaries and, more importantly, colleagues that I trust. Often, this approach leads to interesting discoveries, conversations, and ideas. This time, once again, I followed this itinerary to establish my own definition.

While investigating personalize, the idea of something marked with one’s initials, name, or monogram” made me wonder. I like that! Is it what personalized learning is all about?! It immediately made me wonder if the learning that I design for my students has my mark. But this is not the most important, is it? It also made me question if my students are able to leave their mark while in the process of learning and more importantly in its outcomes.

The Glossary of Education Reform suggests that personalized learning is an alternative to the “one-size-fits-all” system common in traditional educational practices where the students are not at the center of the learning process. According to this definition, “the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students” are taken into consideration when designing the learning.

I particularly liked the way Knowledge works underlines clear ways to achieve Personalized Learning, such as…

  • Rigorous academic standards
  • Customized instruction
  • Varied pacing of instruction
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Transferable learning objectives and assessment results

My colleagues are really awesome educators and knowledgeable people! Not only did they answer the question “What is Personalized Learning?” on the spot, but all their personal definitions aligned with what I had read and researched. We were able, as well, to have short yet meaningful conversations about the topic. I am thankful to work with people that are willing to stop and reflect on pedagogy in the craze of classes, meetings, and paperwork that define teacher’s lives!

Here are their answers…

“Personalized Learning is teachers creating plans to access the content and skills of the curriculum based on individual strengths and weaknesses. This is done to allow students to make use of and build on their strengths, but also to increase capacity in their weaker areas”.

“Personalized Learning is when a student reaches certain benchmarks or standards in her own time at her own pace, in her own way and then through that that individualized path they develop other interests, passion that they’re allowed to explore”.

“Personalized learning is understanding a learner’s readiness to be able to acquire knowledge, understanding and skills. Is to know what will be evidence of the knowledge and provide multiple pathways to get there.”

“Personalized learning is a personalization of learning activities, tasks and assessments to create specific pathways that fit individual learners readiness, ability level and personal learning profile”.

and mine…

Personalized Learning is having the student at the center of the learning practice at all times giving him the possibility to achieve clear learning targets at his own pace and his own way. It’s designing experiences that the outcomes are clearly transferable and assessments that allow choice, voice and respect individual learning styles. It’s enhancing best practices in education to a maximum and handing total control of the learning to the student.

Valdir Chagas   

Lissajous figures CC0



I’ve been learning for a while. Throughout my academic and personal life, I have to say there weren’t many courses in school, university, other institutions, and programs that were personalized; although, many allowed me to have my own voice.

The learning process I experienced was identical to every other student and the outcomes often the same. I was given and developed my voice through the same experiences as my colleagues and at the same pace. Choice was only allowed in higher education when I was technically allowed to produce new knowledge in my Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. Even those were full of constraints. But I’m an old guy, and we don’t learn like this anymore. Or do we?

The exception to this experience was my COETAIL course where the standards were clear, the process and outcomes were different for EVERY single member of my cohort as well as the pace. So far, COETAIL 2 is going the same way… Let’s see where it will take me. Realisation: maybe that’s why I’m doing it again?!

As a teacher, I have to confess, I’m not sure to what extent my students’ learning is personalized, although I can check all of the boxes on these descriptors: some mentioned above, others based on my definition. The question is… How often?


I guess I have my goals set for this year! Again, let’s see where I am going to end up…


About the Red flag! What is customized learning? Is it important? According to Getting Smart, customized learning “seeks to gear classroom content, instruction, and other aspects of learning towards individual students, their unique interests, and past learning experiences (Hattie, 2009)”. This is a curveball. How to do it? I need to learn more, reset goals…

I have to have a clear definition of all these terms. This article from ISTE is a start: Personalized vs. differentiated vs. individualized learning

Redefining… recalculating…

I’ll keep you posted!