Comparison of Personalized Learning and Vision

The three papers I chose were meta-analyses of professional learning, so they included a measure of comparison within each of them. However, each provided their own definition of personalized learning.

Throughout this analysis, I will highlight the strengths in green and the weaknesses of each definition in red.

Comparison 1: Length and breadth of the definition

The first source, which was provided by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) and was required, had a very concise definition of personalized learning (PL):

“Personalized learning [is] an instructional approach that uses student voice to enact an individual path and pace through a collection of competencies" (1).

Because this source had such a short definition of personalized learning, it was very broad, which allows it to be applied to multiple situations. I found this to be a strength because, as personalized learning is still something that schools are wrapping their brains around, it might not be implemented as a full-scale effort. It might appear in bits and pieces as the school/district/state decides how they want to approach PL. However, because this definition was so short, it could be misconstrued and needs, in my opinion, supporting information to fully describe personalized learning.

In my second source, Murphy et al. created a more inclusive definition of personalized learning:

“Personalized learning refers to a teacher’s relationships with students and their families; the use of multiple instructional modes to scaffold each student’s learning; enhancing the student’s motivation to learn as well as enhancing metacognitive, social, and emotional competencies to foster self-direction and achieve mastery of knowledge and skills. Personalization ensues from the relationships among teachers and learners and the teacher’s orchestration, often in co-design with students, of multiple means for enhancing every aspect of each student’s learning and development. Personalized learning varies the time, place, and pace of learning for each student, enlists the student in the creation of learning pathways, and utilizes technology to manage and document the learning process and access rich sources of information" (xi)

A strength of this definition is that it is more detailed than the first definition. This gives schools/districts/states that are less-informed about PL a starting point. I found this to be a strength of Zhang et. al's definition as well:

“Personalized learning is a systemic learning design which focuses on tailoring instruction to individual students’ strengths, preferences, needs, and goals that leads to well-rounded educational experiences including increases access to disciplines and 21-st century work skills. Personalized learning provides flexibility and supports in what, how, when, and where students learn and demonstrate mastery of learning. Specifically, these flexibilities and supports are designed in instructional approaches, content, activities, learning objectives and outcomes, pace of learning, and alternative pathways toward college and career. In addition, personalized learning enables student voice and choice based upon their interest, prior learning, and affords students opportunities to influence their learning path. Personalized learning systems often leverage technology to enhance access to quality learning experiences for all learners, support educators in effective implementation practices, and strengthen school-level technological infrastructure." (268)

The more detail provided by the definition, the clearer the picture of PL painted by the definition. Walkington and Bernacki’s definition fell somewhere in the middle in terms of detail:

“Personalized learning is a systemic learning design which focuses on tailoring instruction to individual students’ strengths, preferences, needs, and goals that leads to well-rounded educational experiences including increased access to disciplines and 21st-century work skills." (239)

Comparison 2: Competencies

The first source from the Georgia PSC defined 9 competencies of PL (2-4):

  • prioritized executive function

  • learner agency

  • asset-based dispositions

  • growth and mastery mindset

  • authentic and adaptive assessment

  • flexible educational resources

  • individualized path

  • dynamic communication

  • expanded collaboration

  • + 1 bonus: life-long professional learning

I found these competencies to be a strength of this document and vision for personalized learning. This was the only document that emphasized executive functioning, which is such a key developmental skill, if we want learners to be fully responsible for their learning. Walkington and Bernacki also included competencies, but they referred to them as themes, and they only included 8 (238):

  • Individualization

  • Differentiation

  • standards-aligned

  • Student-owned

  • socially embedded

  • connected to student interests

  • in flexible environments

  • enacted with continuous formative assessment

You can see that both included a focus on assessment, flexibility, and individualization. They also place students at the center of their model, which, in my opinion, is key to personalized learning.

Murphy et al. and Zhang et al. did not define any competencies, which I felt was a weakness in their visions.

Comparison 3: Use of Technology

The document from the Georgia PSC did not specifically mention technology. While there were hints at technology, for example, under Growth and Mastery Mindset, “adaptive tools, strategies, and learning experiences" are referenced, but they are not specifically tied to technology. Some might feel as though this is a weakness in the vision, but I feel as though it is a strength. Not all students have abundant access to technology, especially in rural areas of the state, so leaving the technology piece vague, allows schools/districts/states to implement PL even if they do not have robust technological infrastructure. While Walkington and Bernacki mentioned technology as being important to PL, even they recognized that it was not a requirement: "It is important to recognize that PL does not necessarily require the use of computing technologies and the role and relative importance of the technology itself varies greatly across implementation of PL" (245).

Each of the other visions specifically mentioned technology as being central to PL. Murphy et al. state that “technology has a significant and thriving relationship to personalized learning and provides access both to managing and documenting the learning process and to accessing rich resources that might otherwise have been unattainable" (xii).

Comparison 4: The Role of the Student

Each vision of PL placed students at the center of the vision, but the way this was done was different for each vision. The vision from the Georgia PSC focused on learners taking responsibility for their learning, which is probably where the emphasis on executive functioning comes into play. I gravitated to this very much as I have continually tried to teach my students that a grade (or their progress in the course) is not something that happens to them, but something that they control based on their actions. Murphy et al. state that students are at the center of personalized learning, which demonstrates a "shift from teaching as something teachers do to thinking of learning as something students do”.

Murphy et al. focused on building relationships to enhance student motivation. I felt this was a strength of their vision. They were the most focused on relationships with stakeholders. While Walkington and Bernacki and Zhang et al. created visions that danced around this topic, Murphy et al. embraced the importance of stakeholder relationships. Involving stakeholders and developing relationships is such an important part of building trust with the student and their families.

The vision from the Georgia PSC does mention stakeholder relationships, but it was not emphasized.

Walkington and Bernacki discussed student agency and the importance of student voice in PL, but they seemed to place less emphasis on the student-centered nature of PL than other visions. Zhang et al. also placed students at the center of their vision.

Each vision focused on learner strengths, rather than weaknesses, which was refreshing and a definite positive.

Comparison 5: Learner Experience

Each vision discussed the learner experience, but they varied. The Georgia PSC focused on learners taking responsibility for their learning and their definition focused on each learner enacting an individual path and pace through the content (1). They also made a point to mention that learners will embrace their mistakes as learning opportunities, co-plan with their teachers, and defend their learning. Murphy et al. also mention that the teacher will “co-design” with the student to plan a pathway through the content (xi). This focus on the teacher and the student as “co-authors” of the student’s learning journey was a strength of these two visions.

Murphy et al. and Zhang et al. discuss learning pathways, like the Georgia PSC document. The PSC document does not mention technology as a requirement for these pathways, but Murphy et al. (xi) and Zhang et al. (268) specifically discuss technology to document and manage these learning pathways (xi).

Walkington and Bernacki discuss the US Department of Education definition of personalized learning, which states that instructional approaches and content are driven by the learner’s interests and is self-initiated by the learner (238). However, they do not mention learning pathways or how this should happen, which was a weakness. Alternatively, Walkington and Bernacki were the only vision to discuss how personalized learning can differ in depth and grain size (238-249). This means that personalized learning does not have to be an all or nothing approach. There are many ways the teacher/school/district can personalize learning little by little, rather than feeling like they must completely redesign how everything is done all at once. For example, a teacher can offer a menu of choices for a project instead of having every student do the same project. This is a way to slowly inject personalized learning into the curriculum in small doses (small “grain size”, according to Walkington and Bernacki). This was a definite strength of their vision. So many times, a change feels overwhelming because it is SO large and SO different. However, by taking small steps, the change isn’t as overwhelming to the student or teacher.

Comparison 6: Inclusivity

Personalized learning is a way to personalize the learning environment for each learner. While it might be easy to assume that this method of teaching and learning would offer increased support for students with learning differences and marginalized populations, Zhang et al. was the only vision that placed an emphasis on students with disabilities and marginalized populations (254, 260. They continually emphasized that PL should support these populations just as well as traditional student populations. This was a strength of their vision, and a weakness of the other three. Even though they mention supporting all learners, they could be more inclusive.

After reading through the previous four compilations and visions of personalized learning, my vision for personalized learning focuses on the following:

  • Executive functioning – if the executive functioning skills are not in place, the student is not mentally ready to tackle personalized learning. So, developing this skill in students is key to implementing personalized learning.

  • Relationships – the teacher, student, and stakeholders need to be on the same page and working together to support the student on their journey through the content. To do this, trusting relationships must be established between each party.

  • Learners are responsible for their learning – true personalized learning takes the emphasis away from the teacher and shifts it to the student. The student is now responsible for their learning while the teacher is merely a facilitator (granted, they are a highly trained and knowledgeable facilitator). This also means that the student has a voice in their learning and their voice should be emphasized.

  • Individualized Experience – The learning experience will be different for each student. Students should work with their instructor to plan their path through the content and how they will demonstrate mastery of the content. Learners should also embrace their mistakes and their strengths should be emphasized.

  • Inclusivity – personalized learning should be inclusive of all learners. It should be thought of as a way to make learning accessible to all students and support their differences rather than something that further divides students needing accommodations and those that do not.

  • Technology – Technology is a powerful tool in the process of personalized learning, but it is not the end-all-be-all. Personalizing the learner experience is easier with technology and learning management systems, but the student experience can be personalized without technology – it just requires more effort on the part of the teacher and the student. If authentic software is available, it should be utilized. But the lack of technology should not be a reason to avoid personalized learning.

Works Cited

Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC). (2021). 505-3-.108 Personalized Learning Endorsement


Murphy, M., Redding, S., & Twyman, J. (2017). Handbook on Personalized Learning for states, districts, and Schools. Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Walkington, C., & Bernacki, M. L. (2020). Appraising research on personalized learning: Definitions, theoretical alignment, advancements, and future directions. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 52(3), 235–252.

Zhang, L., Yang, S., & Carter, R. A. (2020). Personalized Learning and ESSA: What we know and where we go. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 52(3), 253-274.