Week 8: Personalisation – Introducing the concept

"Babies01" by Ian Guest. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA
“Babies01” by Ian Guest. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

The e-Learning Ecologies MOOC: Week 8 Question

Make a post introducing a differentiated instruction concept. Define the concept and provide at least 1 example of the concept in practice. Be sure to add links or other references and images or other media to illustrate your point. If possible, select a concept that nobody has addressed yet so we get a well-balanced view of differentiated instruction. Differentiated learning concepts might include:

Personalized learning; Adaptive learning; Learner diversity (classifications, profiles); Learner diversity (pedagogical design and management); Learning (dis)abilities; Localized learning; Global learning; Software for differentiated instruction; Disability-specific tools; Or suggest a concept in need of definition!

My Response

We’ve now reached the final week of the e-Learning Ecologies MOOC with the last of the seven “e-affordances”. This time it is the turn of differentiated learning, also known as differentiated instruction, is an approach to learning and teaching that ensures students of mixed ability in the same class have the opportunity and are assisted to fulfil their individual potential (Hall, 2002:2). In this final post for the e-Learning Ecologies MOOC, I would like to introduce the concept of personalisation.

The notion of personalised learning is not a new one and can trace its’ heritage back to the early 20th Century with Helen Pankhurst and the Dalton Plan (Dewey, 1922). Pankhurst introduced the “plan” in 1914 at the Children’s University School (now the Dalton School) in New York City, a private school. Four years later, it was adopted in the state schools of Dalton, Massachusetts, hence it became known as the “Dalton Plan”. The “plan” was developed to give grammar school students the freedom and opportunity to control their curriculum in order to meet their need, interests and abilities; promoting both independence and dependability.

Personalised learning became the “big idea” and “the buzzword” in the United Kingdom in the early 21st Century, when Charles Clarke (then the UK Secretary of State for Education and Skills) in a political speech at his Party’s conference declared that “… [in] this changing world we know that education too has to change to put the learner at the centre” (Clarke, 2003). This triggered a number of educational initiatives attempting to promote the efficacy of personalisation, though as a concept it wasn’t quite clearly defined as the following quotes from the same governmental department in the same year shows:

 …working in partnership with the learner – to tailor their learning experience in pathways, according to their needs and personal objectives – in a way which delivers success (DfES, 2006a:7).

…taking a highly structured and responsive approach to each child’s and young person’s learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate. It means strengthening the link between learning and teaching by engaging pupils – and their parents – as partners in learning (DfES, 2006b:6).

What is clear in the above definitions is the sense of “partners in learning”, with peers, teachers and parents. Leadbeater (2004a, 2004b) suggested that personalisation could be delivered via a “script”. The “script” describes a sequences of actions involving a number of actors; he uses the example of having a meal in a restaurant, so the “script” could read: “reserve table; arrive at restaurant and be shown to table; examine menu; place order with waiter; food delivered to table; eat; ask for bill; pay; leave” (Leadbeater, 2004a:7). Through a process that Leadbeater calls “personalisation through participation”, it means that in an educational context, learners are given agency in how those “scripts” are written in the way that their education should be delivered. However, Leadbeater (2004a) is also cognizant that the “biggest challenge” to personalisation is its implications for inequality and exclusion; citing that middle class homes are “far more conducive to personalised learning” than many poorer homes that do not have adequate access to space, computers and books. Furthermore, Pollard & James (2004) identified a number of other challenges to the personalisation agenda:

  • Conceptualisation – is the concept of personalised learning empirically supported and sufficient?
  • Authenticity – is the concept really about learning? Or is it more about teaching and curriculum delivery?
  • Realism – has the concept been consumed in rhetoric?

Whilst the personalisation agenda has been firmly rooted in Primary and Secondary Education circles, others have tried to transfer the ideals behind personalisation into other contexts, such as Higher Education (Brookes & Becket, 2010) and distance learning (Read & Hurford, 2008). As a philosophy, one cannot argue with the perceived benefits of personalisation; in practice, however, there is much that needs to be done to make this happen. We may have to wait a little bit longer before we are able to successfully implement a personalised learning plan for all learners across all educational contexts.


Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts (Aspect). (2006). Personalised Learning: From Blueprint to Practice. Wakefield, England: Aspect. Available at: http://www.aspect.org.uk/files/1190/pl_from_blueprint_to_practice.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Brookes, M. & Becket, N. (2010). Personalising Student Learning Experiences: Final Report. Oxford, England: Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network, The Higher Education Academy. Available at: http://www-new1.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hlst/documents/projects/round_10/r10_brookes_beckett_final.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Clarke, C. (2003). Education always our priority. 30.9.2003. Labour Party Conference, Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth, England. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/sep/30/schools.uk6 [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Department for Education and Skills (DfES). (2006a). Personalising Further Education: Developing a Vision. London, England: Crown Copyright. Available at: https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/DfES%20Personalisation.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Department for Education and Skills (DfES). (2006b). 2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group (Gilbert Report). London, England: Crown Copyright. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationdetail/page1/dfes-04255-2006 [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Dewey, E. (1922). The Dalton Laboratory Plan. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co. Available at: https://archive.org/details/daltonlaboratory00deweiala [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Hall, T. (2002). Differentiated Instruction: Effective Classroom Practices Report. Wakefield, MA: Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Available at: http://aim.cast.org/sites/aim.cast.org/files/DifInstruc1.14.11.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Leadbeater, C. (2004a). Learning about Personalisation: How can we put the learner at the heart of the education system? London, England: Crown Copyright. Available at: http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/learningaboutpersonalisation [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Leadbeater, C. (2004a). Personalisation through Participation: A New Script for Public Services. London, England: Demos. Available at: http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/personalisation [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Pollard, A. & James, M. (Eds). (2004). Personalised Learning: A Commentary by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. London, England: Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), Institute of Education, University of London. Available at: http://www.tlrp.org/documents/personalised_learning.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Read, A. & Hurford, D. (2008). “Opportunities for Personalised Learning: Enabling or Overwhelming?”. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 2(1), pp. 43-50. Available at: [Accessed 9.3.2015].

Space for Personalised Learning (S4PL). (2008). Personalised Learning: A Policy Overview. London, England: Space for Personalised Learning, Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Available at: http://complexneeds.org.uk/modules/Module-4.1-Working-with-other-professionals/All/downloads/m13p070b/personalised_learning_policy_overview.pdf [Accessed 9.3.2015].