Learning Environments Consortium International

Personalized Instruction

Personalization of instruction and learning is the effort on the part of a school to take into account individual student characteristics and needs, and flexible instructional practices, in organizing the learning environment. Teachers committed to personalizing instruction help their students develop personal learning plans, assist in diagnosing their cognitive strengths and weaknesses and other style characteristics, help adapt the learning environment and instruction to learner needs and interests, and mentor authentic and reflective learning experiences for their students.

In the past, antecedents of personalization have been known under different names: nongraded education, continuous progress education, individualized instruction, individually guided or prescribed education, and so forth. Each of these concepts is concerned with personalized education but in a limited way. Personalization is broader in scope, more systematic in organization, and more authentic in its goals and strategies.

Several current systematic approaches to instructional improvement, such as style-based instruction and differentiated instruction, do border on the truly personalized. The former typically draws on individualized instruction for it roots and the latter tends to restrict itself to the individual classroom, but both can be highly personalized when implemented in a comprehensive, organic and dynamic fashion.

What, then, are the basic elements of a personalized approach to instruction? If we consider the implications of historic efforts to renew schooling, and take into account the most flexible of recent efforts to individualize learning, a direction begins to emerge…. These trends do not provide a model to be imposed on schools but rather a broad blueprint for ongoing improvement in school organization and good practice. Keefe and Jenkins (2000) propose six basic elements of personalized instruction (see below) that should be present if a school wishes to develop powerful teaching and learning for student success. These elements or structures produce a challenging, integrative, but child-centered learning environment, one that is interactive and meaningful, but with reasonably structured learning activities, flexible use of time and space, and authentic, performance-based assessment of student progress.

Keefe and Jenkins think of these six basic elements as constituting the culture and context of personalized instruction. The cultural components–teacher role, student learning characteristics, and collegial relationships — establish the foundation of personalization and ensure that the school prizes a caring and collaborative environment, student diversity, and individual development. The contextual factors–interactivity, flexible scheduling, and authentic assessment–promote and support student engagement, thoughtful growth, and proficient performance.


1. A dual teacher role of coach and adviser.

2. The diagnosis of relevant student learning characteristics, including:

~ Developmental level;

~ Cognitive /learning style;

~ Prior knowledge/ skills.

3. A culture of collegiality in the school, characterized by:

~ A constructivist environment;

~ Collaborative learning arrangements.

4. An interactive learning environment characterized by:

~ Small school or small group (class) size;

~ Thoughtful conversation;

~ Active learning activities;

~ Authentic student achievement.

5. Flexible scheduling and pacing, but with adequate structure.

6. Authentic assessment.

(Excerpted from Personalized Instruction: Changing Classroom Practice by James W. Keefe and John M. Jenkins, Eye on Education, Larchmont, New York, 2000).

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