Personalization, Individualization and Differentiation

eSchool News recently published articles by Amanda Stedke and Gene Kerns, discussing the definitions and differences among personalization, individualization, and differentiation.

The pieces cut right to the heart of the issue by noting that most of us struggle to clearly delineate differentiation, individualization, and personalization.

This struggle for a definition poses a larger question: If we cannot clearly and succinctly define our approaches, what chance do we have for successful implementation?

While there is broad agreement on many aspects of the definition of personalized learning, there remains an open dialogue on other parts of this complex definition.

Stedke defines the terms as follows:

Differentiation: Differentiation has been a common fixture in classrooms for decades and is designed to address the needs of all students, who may be at varying levels, within a single classroom. In a differentiated learning environment, students are organized into groups based on proficiency on a particular topic – for example, an elementary school classroom might be divided into an advanced reading group, an intermediate reading group and a developmental reading group. The teacher drives instruction and adjusts lessons that are best suited for each particular group.

Differentiation doesn’t customize the learning experience for each student, but it does help ensure that groups of students, at different levels, receive lessons that are  geared toward their particular abilities.

Individualization: In an individualized learning scenario, the teacher still drives instruction – but, unlike differentiation, an individualized lesson is designed to accommodate the particular needs for an individual learner, rather than a group.

Personalization: A personalized learning environment is much like an individualized learning environment where each learner receives a custom-tailored learning experience. However, in a personalized scenario, the teacher is no longer the sole driver of instruction – each learner now collaborates with the teacher to drive his or her learning, with the students taking a hands-on role in determining their own needs and informing the design of their lessons.

Kerns then expands on and provides further clarity to these definitions.

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