Sunday, September 2, 2012

Differentiated -v- Personalized

At a previous school we seemed to go through a very long process (years) to eventually arrive at a place where the goal was to differentiate instruction.  My current school has jumped right in and even gone one stage further.  We have gone beyond differentiation and focused on personalized learning.  At first these may seem very similar, but they are in fact almost total opposites.  Personalized learning is child-centred.  Differentiation is teacher-centred.  Personalized learning focuses on the learner, differentiated learning focuses on the instruction.  In personalized learning, students come to understand how they learn best as they are active participants in designing their learning goals and deciding what they are learning, in fact they own their own learning.  In differentiated learning the students are more passive as the teachers have already determined the learning outcomes which are the same for the whole group of students.  Teachers have also selected the content, tools and resources that different students will use.

The US Department of Education defines the difference in the following way:

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them. 
Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.

As we have gone beyond differentiation and are looking at the individual child, the importance of using data collected about that child is of paramount importance.  Last week's staff meeting was devoted to working in groups to look at data we have and to ask what more we need.  Next week many of the teachers are participating in a 3-day workshop with trainers from the Data Wise group at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

The approach to assessment is also very different.  Differentiated assessment is assessment for learning. It is formative with the aim of aligning further instruction with helping students meet the pre-determined learning outcomes.  It provides the teacher with information about what the students know and can do in order to help them to design the next steps.  Personalized assessment regards assessment as learning.  It is the learners who self-assess and reflect on their progress and come up with their own new goals.  Because assessment is different, reporting is different too.  In personalized learning it is the learner's responsibility to identify their strengths, communicate their learning to others and to plan how they can develop further.

The differences between individualized, differentiated and personalized learning are explained very clearly in this chart by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey.

Photo Credit:  by Ken Owen, 2011 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post, Maggie. Differentiation is an incredibly important aspect for learning, especially in the Middle Years where I teach. But I really love your take on things. I know you are playing semantics, but my personal definition of differentiation is similar to your personalised learning scenarion. What I love with your term, however, is the deliberate focus on the individual student. You are right, we need to avoid the focus on the teacher.
    Thanks for sharing