6 Insights to Making Personalized Learning Happen

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Personalized Learning Insights

I have had the privilege over the past two weeks of working with staff in Vista Unified in California and Douglas County Public Schools in Colorado. The conversations were rich and complex and vulnerable.

Here are the insights to make personalized learning happen.

1. Goal clarity is really important.

Whether the goals are teacher-generated, teacher and student co-created, or student generated, they provide a target for design of the assignments, area of focus for exploration, and examination to evaluate resulting work.

2. The idea of growing a learning partnership with students is great in theory but it is initially really uncomfortable in practice for many teachers and students.

Persistence helps, but also continuing to think flexibly and communicate openly about what type of learning experience you are trying to create and how their role in the development is essential.

3. You have to be okay with controlled chaos and a set of norms and routines to structure learning.

It doesn’t matter what your classroom management style is, you just have to have one that works.

4. The teacher is still doing a lot of heavy lifting to make personalized learning possible.

When you observe a personalized learning environment, students are carrying a lot of the cognitive load. For teachers, the design and development work that is happening outside of the classroom (without kids) is essential so that when you are with kids you can observe, provide feedback, ask probing questions, celebrate discoveries and accomplishments, engage in one-to-one conferences, and provide direct instruction to support student learning.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. Making student learning visible in real time requires an environment where making mistakes and learning from it is the new normal.

Teachers can use a range of techniques and tools to make that happen in order to spend less time in front of the room teaching and more time coaching for inquiry, offering feedback and guidance about the development of an idea, and reflecting with students on what they learned about the topic and themselves. That means students have increased ownership in what they are doing and are learning how to monitor their own growth over time.

6. The development of personalized learning is not something that teachers and students engage in on top of what is already happening.

Instead, it recalibrates and reimagines what is necessary and important to practice, to problem-solve, and to create. Teachers are start-up entrepreneurs, artists, and engineers that are intentional, passionate, and compassionate as they engage in design thinking. Personal is the heart of personalized learning and it requires creating, imagining and innovating based on listening to students interests, inquiries, and aspirations.



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Molly Maldonado
Molly Maldonado
6 years ago

Thank you, Allison, for this list. I have been trying to wrap my head around the learning I’ve experienced myself as I transition to more student centered and personalized learning pathways for my students. Years ago you helped us revisit curriculum and learning at Mariana Bracetti Academy (MBA) and I’ve been quietly overhauling my own approach to education since then. I remember how much you challenged the ‘why’ and ‘for what purpose’ with our instructional decisions. This articulated a lot of what I’ve been thinking and experiencing. Great work, as always! I’ll be reading more.