INNOpod #1: Personalized Learning: Start Right Here

The subject of personalized learning is central to the work of The Center on Innovations in Learning (CIL). CIL has provided a wide variety of resources on this topic, and its staff have for some time now been thinking about, writing about, and practicing personalized learning. The emergence of educational technology—from apps to devices to assessments to digital portfolios—is rapidly expanding the possibilities for children and their learning. The intersection of technology and interpersonal relationships—student to teacher, student to student, student to parent—is a fine mingling, not an exchange. It’s not exchanging one for the other, rather merging one with the other. We consider it our job to support you in mastering that mingle.


1. Introduction

We are so glad you are here. Before you do anything, please download these three documents that will help you to process the information included in this first INNOpod and also plan for your next steps.

  1. These Reflection + Idea Tool Pages correspond with each of the segments included in this INNOpod (e.g. First, Second, Third, etc.). The purpose of this page is to help you to process your thinking and learning so that the planning and action is a natural next step.
  2. This Personalized Learning Indicators of Effective Practice Checklist will make it easy for you to identify those Indicators you observe in action throughout this INNOpod. We will provide it in both Word and PDF so that you can adapt and adjust it to meet the needs of your state, school, classroom, teachers, and students.
  3. This Next Steps and Planning Guide will help you to move from processing to planning and action.

Now that you have downloaded and printed the documents, you are ready to complete your first activity on the Reflection + Idea Tool Page before moving onto the second segment.


2. It Is Personal: The Irreplaceable Effect of A Shared Experience Between People

I have a friend. Our children go to school together, which is how we met four years ago. Unlike many friendships, ours did not start out with a gradual introduction, or ever with a handshake and a “nice to meet you.” Our friendship was cemented at the moment we realized we were sending our firstborns off to school with packs on their backs double their kindergarten size and terrified looks on their faces that said what they could not make sense of or form into words: What is happening here and whatever it is, please, please, please, do not make me do it.

We were strangers but for that uneasy, sideways glance when we weren’t, when we acknowledged and assured one another, “It will be okay, they will be okay, we will all be okay. We will get through it together.”

Thank goodness for shared experiences.

As it turns out, my friend also happens to be a teacher—an exceptional one. She is the teacher that parents request for their children even though parents can’t request teachers for their children where we live. I guess moms, dads, and grandparents figure it’s worth a shot and it probably is.

Pretty Colors                         by Ava F. Mirabito

Because she, like many teachers, will know their children and what they love, find out what they don’t, and figure out how they make sense of everything in between. She is a teacher who will make the unexpected call home to share great news; she will also have the tough conversations when learning or behavior require some extra attention.

In spite of what she is good at and brings to and builds within her students, there is one conversation that always comes up when we too infrequently get together. That conversation is always about personalizing learning. And as smart, caring, and committed as my friend is to her students and her profession, she, like so many, feels as though she can’t keep up, isn’t on the cutting edge. She feels like what she has always known and done and that has worked before just isn’t quite enough now.

Here are some of the questions that come up. See if they are familiar to you:

  • How do we provide students with what they need and can do—as a group and individually?
  • How do we find the time to create opportunities for them to think about what they know, discover and pursue what they want to know, and apply what they’ve learned, especially when they all do it so differently in pacing and approach?
  • How do we do all or any of that when there is just so much of everything to do in a day for so many?
  • How do we make the most of the time we have with our students?
  • And what are we supposed to do with all of this technology that the whole world is talking about? Are we using it the best way we can? Are we even using it at all?  How and where can we find the time and the training to use technology well in teaching and learning?

We don’t necessarily refer to it as “personalized learning” in our conversations, but that’s exactly what we are talking about. And in them, I can both see and hear the frustration of my friend—wanting to figure it out but not knowing how—how to use instructional modes more effectively, incorporate technology more strategically, organize learning into many pathways for each student rather than one pathway for all students.

This is still the same friend that parents clamor for, the friend who can tell you nearly every interest and need each of her seven-year-old students hold and have. If she doubts what she can offer to students, then surely there are thousands standing in line with her.

But she underestimates her role and the ways she has already personalized learning, the ways she has laid the groundwork for doing it even better. She, the teacher, matters most. Technology can expand her presence, it should not, definitely does not, diminish it.

In this excerpt from a chapter within the soon-to-be-published Handbook on Personalized Learning, Sam Redding describes the importance of relationships, student engagement and development of personal competencies, all of which require, at the center, a caring, engaged, and competent teacher:

Friendship                                                  by Anna L. Mirabito

Relationships. Teacher’s relationships with students and their families add onto the standard definition of personalization two new elements. First, it introduces the teacher as a central figure, engaging the learner in identifying what is to be learned and in the design of how it is to be learned, intentionally building students’ personal competencies that propel learning, and forming relationships with students and their families to better understand the student, the student’s needs, and the student’s aspirations. In fact, the teacher uniquely possesses an asset for the student through “relational suasion,” as described by Redding (2013):

The teacher possesses the power of relational suasion that technology cannot match. Through the teacher’s example and her instruction, the student learns to value mastery, to raise expectations, to manage learning, and to broaden interests. The teacher is singularly capable of teaching social and emotional skills and engaging families in their children’s academic and personal development. (pp. 6–7) 

Dr. Redding pushes deeper and wider into the notion of relationships, moving from the role of student-teacher relationships in personalized learning, to student-student relationships, even the student-self relationship and the formation of learning habits.

Student Engagement. “Enlist[ing] the student in the creation of learning pathways” honors the student’s interests and aspirations, encourages the student’s sense of responsibility for learning, and exercises the student’s ability to navigate the learning process.”

Personal Competencies. “Enhanc[ing] the student’s “personal competencies” means intentionally building the student’s capacity to learn by incorporating into instruction and teacher–student interactions the content and activities that enhance the student’s cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and social-emotional competencies. These four personal competencies are the propellants of learning and together form students’ learning habits.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 1.45.25 PM
Infographic of the Personal Competencies: Download it here.

We strive to find more effective, more efficient ways to reach our students. And we might let our technological insecurities get the best of us sometimes, but our relational suasion, our intentional design of instruction, makes us unique and irreplaceable. We know, we learn, we want to learn more. And then we want to do something about what we’ve learned. We may not always know what or how at first, but we won’t stop until we figure it out.

Just like teachers in Michigan and all over the world are doing. They are flipping classrooms like it’s a switch and organizing students’ project-based learning opportunities in their sleep. They can do this because they know their students and what they need. They might have reshaped what they’ve always done instructionally, but they have not been replaced.

If anything, these teachers have become even more irreplaceable. They’ve figured out how to spend time working with their students on really important things—like asking great questions and solving big problems and providing one-on-one or small-group instruction that builds learning connections as much as it strengthens human ones.

And here is the other thing: They had to start somewhere, too. They were asking the same questions that you and I are asking and they were committed to finding a better way just like us.

Thank goodness for shared experiences.

So your somewhere starts right here.


3. Outcomes: This is What You Can Expect to Gain from this INNOpod (and others).

Trusted, reliable, and informative content that will:

  1. Give you the vocabulary and a framework for understanding how personalized learning works so that you can organize what you’re already doing that’s pretty personalized but also determine where the bare spots are
  2. Provide you with video examples of teachers and their SPECIFIC practices for personalizing learning
  3. Stockpile your resource library with high-quality, CIL-vetted articles, research, and action steps related to the practice
  4. Connect the practices with specific how-I-did-it insights directly FROM YOUR COLLEAGUES who are doing it
  5. Finally, show you where people are sharing about it on social media (if you’re curious) and show you how to join in the conversation (if you’re interested).

Be sure to reflect on your current understanding of personalized learning, as well as terms and vocabulary you’ve already heard so far. Consider how their meaning connects to experiences you’ve had on the Reflection + Idea Tool Pages.

We are about to hear from someone who has spent his entire career researching personalized learning (long before it was known as that) and turning that research into language and practices that educators can actually use to develop motivated, curious, and successful thinkers and learners. He—together with his colleagues at CIL, Dr. Marilyn Murphy, director, and Dr. Janet Twyman, director of technology—has created language and vocabulary to help educators organize their thinking and communicate about personalized learning in practical and effective ways. Continue to use the Reflection + Idea Tool Pages to keep track of what you hear from Dr. Redding and any questions that come to your mind.


4. Sam Redding on Personalized Learning, What It Provides for Students and Families, and Why the Teacher Matters So Much

Video Highlights:

  • Personalized learning is dependent on the relationship between the teacher and the student and his or her family; it promises that the teacher will get to know a child and care about them.
  • Personalized learning is attention to and development of four competencies: cognition (what a student knows), metacognition (how they know it), motivation (satisfaction from learning and curiosity to keep learning), and social-emotional (how they interact and engage with others).
  • A lot about personalizing learning has to do with good, sound teaching practices; but technology now makes it possible to expand and stimulate new interests and opportunities in children and to individualize their learning and that of their peers where it once would have taken a lot of time.
  • Students and families will be involved in the design of the learning pathway.
  • Teachers will acknowledge what students learn and are interested in outside and inside of school and build learning experiences that connect to that knowledge and those interests.

A teacher to the core, you can learn more about Dr. Redding’s research on personalized learning his this engaging and straight-forward chapter within the Handbook on Personalized Learning (a CIL publication). The way Dr. Redding explains how teachers can develop four personal competencies will help you understand the ways you already personalize learning, and his explanation will inspire your thinking about how you can continue to do so in brand-new and powerful ways.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.28.18 PM
Spring 2015: X unique chapters with practical steps to move you from informed to in action.

Don’t forget to record your thoughts on the Reflection + Idea Tool Pages. It will be helpful when you begin to plan.


5. The Framework for Understanding Personalized Learning + the Vocabulary to Talk About It, Plan For It, Implement It, and Assess It

These Personalized Learning Effective Practice and Indicators, developed and published by CIL, provide you with an important framework for organizing your understanding of personalized learning and also your practice of it. We’ve converted them into a checklist for ease of documenting what you observe throughout this INNOpod and in your own schools and classrooms.

Spend a few minutes reviewing them and then pay attention to their application throughout the in-depth focus on future INNOpods, including INNOpod #2, Making Learning Personal in a Flipped Classroom, describing how one teacher used the flipped classroom to make learning more personal for her students.



We’ve provided you with a lot of information—and there is still more to come. If you haven’t already, now is the time to download the Next Steps and Planning Guide, which will help you organize the knowledge, ideas, and burning questions you’ve captured and turn them into your next steps for moving forward.



Made By Us: Resources that We’ve Created and Published on Personalized Learning Just For You

  • x
  • y
  • z

Found By Us: Resources that We’ve Curated Just For You 

CIL has done some good, hard thinking around personalized learning. Here are just a small, small sampling of the research-based resources you can find in our searchable research database. For this particular search, I entered the phrase “personalized learning.”

  • Shift to Digital: Classroom ‘Look for’s’, Vander Ark, T. In this third of a four-part series, Tom Vander Ark provides a straight-forward and visual depiction of what to look for when making the shift toward blended, personalized learning in the classroom.
  • Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning. In this report published by the Rand Organization and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers provide findings related to impacts of personalized learning in four areas: Student Achievement Results, Implementation Findings, Relating Implementation to Outcomes, National Comparison of Survey Results.
  • Blended Learning Research Clearinghouse 1.0Mohammed, S. / The Learning Accelerator. This report summarizes “an established body of evidence for personalizing or individualizing learning and facilitating student agency to foster self-regulated, intrinsically motivated learning, all of which blended learning can enable at scale. In addition, there is a growing number of studies that demonstrate that blended learning…can be effective in meeting academic and non-academic goals for both student and teacher outcomes.”

Our searchable research database, is an incredible resource for any educator looking to find information on change leadership, change processes, and personalized learning. The database is carefully curated to provide you with high-quality research articles and credible perspectives on these and other related topics.

Personalized Learning + Social Media

  1. Who’s talking about personalized learning? Here are some of our favorites:
    • @centerilorg
    • @officeofedtech
  2. For personalized learning happenings on Twitter, search the following hashtags:
    • #personalizedlearning
    • #deeperlearning
    • #edtech
    • #learningpersonalized
  3. For personalized learning happenings on Instagram
    • #personalizedlearning
    • #blendedlearning

Here is a glimpse of what you can expect to see in your search on Twitter.


Thank you so much for spending your time here. We hope these resources were informative and useful. Please keep us updated on your progress toward implementing blended learning in your state, district, or school—and how you are brining the Personalized Learning Indicators of Effective Practice to life where you are. #INNOpodCIL/email/link for where they can keep us updated?].



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