How to Overcome Personalized Learning Barriers

Jill Thompson is currently an Associate Partner at Education Elements. Prior to working with Education Elements, she was the Director of Personalized Digital Learning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Follow her on twitter @edu_thompson

“Most schools have been designed to solve yesterday’s problems, rather than capitalizing on today’s opportunities to effectively confront the issues of tomorrow.”


In order to help Personalized Learning (PL) grow in schools and districts we must try to remove the barriers that challenge those we serve. To do this well, it is always great to do a barrier protocol so that we can be proactive. Many times we get stuck in what we have always done so it is great to ask others.

Here is my previous blog post on barrier protocol and below are some PL barriers and how to overcome them:


Yes, it is nice to have money to help fund PL but you can do it on a very little budget.

We should look closely at what we already have in our schools and districts and ask ourselves: how might we change what we have to be more of a student-driven learning environment? For example you can utilize the teacher leaders in your building that are already trying to move to a more PL environment by having them lead PD on how they implemented ____ (fill in blank). If a teacher started with changing their learning environment with furniture and students choosing their seating, let them do a PD on how they did it. Utilize the other people in your building such as facilitators by having them coach teachers to change their craft to a more student-driven environment.

Too often we think we need funding for PL because we have to get devices for the students, but we can start small until the funding is there. Technology is a tool to help but PL can be done without technology.

Look at other funding sources besides the school/district budget such as grants, PTA and/or fundraisers. Have you tried: GetEdFunding, Go Fund Me Education or these grants?

It is overwhelming or it won’t work with ____

We need to get to the root cause of what is being said is overwhelming or won’t work. I often hear time as a reason. When you start getting to the root cause of time it is usually because individual/teams are not maximizing their time.

Planning is one area many educators do not use their time wisely. Setting an agenda is helpful to stay on task and not end up talking about what you did over the weekend or what you are going to do over the weekend etc. Also dividing and conquering tasks by standards. For example, have one teacher come up with three tasks for 6.EE.1 and someone else 6.EE.2 and share resources. Work smarter, not harder!

To also make sure it does not get overwhelming, educators should take small action steps to make the changes to a student driven/PL Environment.

We don’t have buy-in with teachers

You might never get consensus but you will have momentum. To help educators have buy-in explain the WHY we need PL.

The current structure of the school day is obsolete. Created during the Industrial Age, the assembly line system we have in place now has little relevance to what we know kids actually need to thrive. If education leaders refuse to evaluate and stay in touch with students need our institution will fail, just like businesses that don’t keep up with changing customers.

We don’t have buy-in with parents

Explaining the why to parents helps too, but another way you can get buy-in with parents is by having them be a part of the process.

Address misconceptions parents might have, such as students at the computer all day doing Khan videos. Helping parents understand and letting them seeing how that is not the case can be done by having parent tours of your school building and parent workshops on PL.

It is one more thing to do

There are a few ways to address this barrier:

  • PL should not be an add-on but a replacement. For example: Instead of you leading a student conferring/conference, replace that with letting the students lead it.
  • Start by showing educators what they are doing well in their room that meets the PL philosophy, such as if they are already allowing students to goal set or reflect.

Try to remove barriers and constraints to allow for innovation and change. We need to move beyond compliance and break the silos— be the change you wish to see!

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