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Personalization vs. differentiation vs. individualization

Written by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
July 06, 2012

Many of us would argue that one of the affordances of digital media and the internet is a freedom of access to information and learning opportunities that allow for greater personalization of learning. As a result, “personalization” has become a buzzword among us edu-geek types, and the most recent ISTE convention was a prime example. But buzzworthiness always comes with the associated worry that we aren’t all using the word in the same way to mean the same thing. As Justin Reich argued in EdWeek:

Personalization” has won the hearts of every camp in education. Whether you are a market-based reformer, an open education advocate, or a 21st century Dewey partisan, everyone agrees that learning should be personalized: learning experiences should be tailored to each individual student. We also agree that personalization is made feasible by new technologies.

Since we agree on these broad principles, we should expect fierce battles over the specifics, over “what we mean by personalization.”

For some, personalization means using technology to individually diagnose student competencies on standardized tests and then apply algorithms to adaptively deliver appropriately challenging content to each student to help them perform better on those tests. It means taking the factory model of education and giving every kid an assembly line.

Entering boldly into this problem space, Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClasky have created a chart to contrast personalization, differentiation, and individualization. They make a strong play in the chart for a take on “personalization” that starts with the student rather than the curriculum or with classroom arrangements. That sense of personalization makes the term close to the interests of connected learning. Take a look; what do you think?

Personalized Learning Chart


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