September 29, 2021

What is Personalised Learning and Where's the Evidence?

Hi, we’re Educai 👋 and our vision is a world where every single child reaches their full potential through personalised learning. Let's break that down a little.

It’s our first blog post, so we figured we should talk about personalised learning (PL), why we think it’s important and highlight the most compelling evidence for it.

What is Personalised Learning?

Broadly speaking, “personalised learning” refers to practices that tailor pace and focus of instruction to the specific needs and goals of individual students. Under this umbrella you’ll find a wide range of different strategies with different foci, such as content, pacing, teaching methods, student empowerment (e.g. where students choose what they learn) among others.

Why do we care about it?

One-size-fits-all approaches often result in some students feeling uninspired and unchallenged on one side, and students struggling to grasp concepts or keep up on the other side. The theory is, PL allows all students to learn at their own pace through methods that suit them and therefore, PL should result in students that are more engaged and improvements in educational attainment.

Where's the evidence?

Our own experience teaching 600+ students over 6 years has proven to us at least that the theory holds true. We’ve learned that students have certain strengths, weaknesses and teaching methodologies that resonate best with them. Basically, it’s a myth that some people can ‘do’ maths while others just can’t - so long as you find the right teaching method, everyone can ‘do’ maths.

So, we know from our own experience how important PL is, and there’s definitely been a wave of popularity with several governments publishing statements around PL in education policies, and school boards implementing these models.

The truth is, this is a little problematic because very few true impact studies actually exist! Studies that evaluate the impact of PL on student outcomes are expensive and difficult to run. Despite this, we wanted to bring attention to one particularly compelling study published in 2017.

Study: How Does Personsalised Learning Affect Student Achievement?

Taking advantage of a Gates Foundation project which funded certain schools in the US to implement PL, the study collected data in 2014 and 2015 from 5500 students in 32 schools who took assessments in maths and reading. They then compared outcomes in PL schools with matched peers in non-PL schools and national norms.

The study found that:

PL makes a positive difference in mathematical achievement. PL students saw gains of 3 percentile points – specifically a student who would’ve performed at the median in the comparison group is estimated to have performed 3 percentile points above the median in a PL school.

Students started below national norms, but approached them by end of the year. Comparing PL students’ average performance to grade-level peers across the country, the PL schools in this study started off below national norms, but gained 2 percentile points towards national norms at the end of the year.

PL students surpassed national norms after two years. 16 of the 32 schools had additional year’s worth of data – showing that students started significantly below national norms, and gained ground over two years to sit above the national norms.

PL benefits students of all abilities. When students were divided into groups based on starting levels of achievement, results showed improvements across the spectrum.

There are other impact studies we can draw on, and we’ll talk more about them in future blog posts. For now though, the Gates Foundation study does confirm our own experience from tutoring - hopefully in the not too distant future we should be able to add our own data to further prove the importance of personalised learning.

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