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Truly Personalised Learning

I am sure we have all heard schools say, we ‘Personalise’ learning, but what does this really mean, and do all schools mean the same thing when they use the phrase?  The short answer, of course, is no.

Many schools may use the term, but how many actually do it?  So let’s be clear, Personalised learning does not mean a student can choose History instead of Geography, or Art instead of Drama. Equally, it does not mean that a teacher has two different worksheets for students to use, depending on the perceived ‘ability’ of a student.

For us, at the British International School of Houston, we like to think of three different approaches; Differentiated, Individualised and Personalised. The chart below, based on the work of Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, provides a good visualisation of these different approaches.




Starts with the learner

Starts with groups of learners

Starts with the needs of the individual learner

Connects with interests, passions, and aspirations

Adjusts to learning needs of groups of learners

Accommodates learning needs of the individual

Learners actively participate in the design of their learning

Explicit instruction based upon the learning needs of groups of learners

Explicit instruction based upon the learning needs of an individual learner

Learners have a voice and choice on what they learn

Teachers create or adapt instruction based on different needs of learners

Teachers customise lessons and tasks for learners based on individual needs

Different objectives for each learner

Same objectives for groups of learners

Same objectives for learners with specific objectives for individuals who receive one-on-one support

Learner selects appropriate technology and resources to support their learning

Technology and resources are selected to support the learning needs of groups of learner

Technology and resources are selected to support the learning needs of an individual learner

Learners build a network of peers, teachers, and others to guide and support their learning

Learners are reliant on the guidance of teachers to support their learning

Learners are dependent on individual teachers or para-professionals to support their learning

Assessment AS learning

Assessment FOR learning

Assessment OF learning

Teachers develop capacity to create independent learners who set goals, monitor progress, and reflect on learning

Assessment involves time- based testing and teachers provide feedback to advance learning

Summative assessment is grade-based and involves time-based testing which confirms what learners know and don’t know

In Individualised and Differentiated, the teacher is in control of the learning. The assumption is that the teacher has something (often knowledge) and they need to impart it to the student. The role of the teacher is an Instructor and this is often referred to as Instructivist education.

In the Personalised model, the assumption is that the learner already has what they need, or they are capable of discovering it for themselves. The role of the teacher here is to help the student make new meaning, or to co-construct learning with the student. This is often referred to as Constructivist learning.

Every time you tell a child something you deprive them of the joy of discovering it for themselves. 

- John Dewey

Great teachers understand that there is a time and place for each of these approaches, but that the most powerful learning comes when it is truly Personalised.

For more information on our Definition of Learning, please take a look at our Strategic Plan below.


Andrew Derry

October 2016


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