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A Week of Learning My Way

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a woman sits on a bed as books fly around and are strewn all around
We only learn what we want

This week was one of those weeks that typically challenge me the most as a student. For starters, I spent a great deal of the week sick. At work, we're nearing a finish line on one important task and our Fall semester began today, so the workload was much greater than usual. In my personal life, important family events took up more time than expected, and several unexpected appointments ate chunks of some days. In short, life happened this week.

Every day, the amount of time and mental energy I had left over to devote to school was far less than I had hoped and planned. One thing that greatly helped me this week, though, is that my course uses many personalized learning strategies. The benefits of those strategies was what got me through this week, so it was especially meaningful that our content this week focused on personalized learning.

A view from the driver's seat down a curvy road
Take the wheel in your learning

If you don't know, personalized learning is a teaching model that lets students take the driver's seat as much as possible to customize their learning experience to their needs, interests, and goals (Basye, 2018). It gives options, rather than strict, prescribed assignments. It gives pools of learning resources and encourages exploration, rather than a required reading list. It gives key milestone dates for assignments, but lets each student complete their work with a great deal of flexibility. And grading is based on individual growth.

All these things meant I had a great deal of control over the pacing I was able to set this week, and the content I chose to explore. As someone who was already familiar with a great deal of the content, I was able to spend my time exploring things that were new to me. There is never a feeling of 'busy work' in a course that uses a personalized learning approach, because I get the freedom to self-assess and focus my attention where I feel gaps.

My Focus for the Week

It's no surprise that I have a special interest in higher education. Most of the information I previously knew about personalized learning was focused on K-12 environments. So, this week, I wanted to focus on practical applications of personalized learning in higher ed. What I learned is that this is an area that has a lot of room for further research. Specifically, I had trouble finding much data identifying the efficacy of the model in higher ed.

A man thumbs through a book in a library
Room for research

I don't know if this is a factor, but given what I do know about the complexity of accreditation standards for higher ed institutions, I suspect some might struggle with finding a balance between giving students ample freedom, yet ensuring course outcomes are consistently met. It's definitely a challenge.

Then there's the fears of time commitments. Instructors are already often overwhelmed with the workload of connecting, teaching, mentoring, and grading. And on the surface, it sounds like personalized learning models would likely add to that workload, rather than reduce it. I'd love to find a comparative study of a higher ed instructor's workload in a traditional course against their workload in a personalized learning course. I'd also like to learn more qualitative data about their satisfaction with their workload. Spending 3 hours grading countless papers on the same topic would be mentally exhausting for me. But spending 3 hours reviewing projects submitted in a variety of formats discussing a variety of topics sounds interesting.

Personalized learning does require a greater student-teacher connection. Rather than leading a student, the teacher becomes a mentor and facilitator. In theory, they may get to spend far less time grading repetitive assignments, and instead use that time to review how the course content is shaping each student's journey. Regardless, in a world that is questioning the value of higher education and the role technology does and should play in the process, personalized learning offers the promise of a more meaningful learning experience.

A smiling college student holding notebooks and folders
Meaningful learning is meaningful

Weekly Wrap-Up

As someone that is already benefitting from personalized learning, I can safely say I am a huge fan of this approach. I like being able to direct my learning in a way that is meaningful to my goals and interests. The course I am currently taking was originally designed for teachers/technologists working with K-12 courses. But because I was allowed to customize the assignment project, I was able to focus on its use in higher ed courses. Further, since I was already familiar with the general concept, I was able to use my limited time this week to dive into the practical side of it and explore specific ways to bring personalized learning into higher ed courses. And because I had the freedom to access this week's content early, I was able to start thinking about my project sooner, which turned out to help me greatly during this difficult week.

One final added benefit of personalized learning that was rarely mentioned in the sources I read this week, but that has been really great for me during this course is that I get to see a wide variety in my classmates' course projects because every other student in the course is customizing their focus to things that matter to them. Are there drawbacks to personalized learning? Perhaps. But I haven't experienced any firsthand, and I'm looking forward to using this approach in the next course I teach.


Basye, D. (2018, January 24). Personalized vs. differentiated vs. individualized learning. ISTE.


All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix.

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Personalize learning I’ve seen used by many homes schoolers and don’t know if you remember, but first grade at Maryville elementary used some of this concept—way back then! This certainly seems like an appropriate method to keep students interested and directed. Boring assignments and repetition when not needed is frustrating to many gifted learners. Proud of your work and always can’t wait until the next post.

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