Can Adaptive and Personalized learning Coexist?

Adaptive and personalized learning practices are seemingly pit against each other; But it makes me think: how different are they? Personalized learning is the practice of implementing individualized, personalized lessons for students in order to help them better access the lesson. Adaptive learning appears to be a version of personalized learning through the use of adaptive technologies. Both practices aim to target the individual strengths and weaknesses of students in order to achieve higher levels of mastery on foundational skills, as well as grade level standards. Both practices evaluate what a student needs to provide an equitable education that makes sense for the individual child.

In looking at the application of personalization, we look at the implementation of varying methods of exposure and evaluation of skills. As Kallick and Zmuda (2017) discuss, we can think of personalization on a sliding soundboard. In order to personalize learning, the shift should be more towards students. To make this appropriate shift, teachers need to determine priorities and who should maintain control in each area. To do so, Kallick and Zmuda (2017) prompt teachers to ask the following:

  • How ready are my students to take control?
  • How much can I trust that what’s important in the subject matter will be covered if I release some control?
  • How will I know whether the students are really learning?
  • If I begin to release control, what is my new role with students?

When designing this type of instruction, all of these factors should be considered to determine if the instruction is appropriate. As seen below, they used the visual of a sound board, where given each input, teachers can slide the control based on the individual needs of their student.

Image result for the personalizing soundboard

In thinking about adaptive learning, I view this as taking personalized learning a step further. It does not concern me how data-driven it is, given how crucial data is to tracking student progress. As a special educator, individualized programming is my forte. However, in order for me to prove that a program is effective and the student is learning and making adequate progress, I must track data to see how the student is doing. Data actually helps me to customize their learning experience even further; The data can cause instructional shifts that may not have been evident without it! With this, I don’t foresee a depersonalization of learning with the use of adaptive learning. Adaptive learning, by nature is meeting individual needs of students through intelligence softwares that can track the progress of students. In Lemke (2013), this is investigated through the Dreambox learning program. Having worked in a school that has used this program, I have seen the benefits of the program as students use it consistently; They are highly engaged and making individualized progress on skills. I have also seen success similar to this with a reading program called Read Theory.

In thinking about if adaptive learning is the “way to go” or not, I think about its current use in schools. Currently, I do not believe that adaptive technology should be the sole means of teaching. I believe that adaptive learning used in conjunction with other means of personalized education is the “way to go.” I think there needs to be a balance while research in these areas are conducted and best practices and programs are determined. However, there are immense benefits in utilizing adaptive learning practices that could benefit a number of students and teachers as an easy differentiation tool.

If I were to invest in one of these practices and money were not an issue, I would begin by investing in personalized learning practices and implement them first. Once this ball has been rolling, I would take time to research the adaptive learning programs that make the most sense for the population of students that are in my school. From there, the investment would expand to include these adaptive learning practices. I would ensure that I take the time to research what may work best for the populations, as what works for suburban students in Newton may not be what works for urban students in Boston. Needs and context need to be considered when looking to implement a personalized learning program. In reality, unfortunately money does seem to play a constraint on this. However, I think a lot of this needs to start with a mindset shift.

As Carter (2017) discusses in her article, in order for these methods to be effective, educators must maintain a particular disposition and mindset in regards to these practices. This includes: being curious about students’ learning, eagerness for inquiry, willingness to collaborate, good communication skills, and empathy for students. As educational leaders, we need to ensure we’re creating professional environments to allow this mindset shift, lead the charge by example, and provide adequate professional learning and coaching opportunities. Many educators have hesitations around practices such as these due to lack of research or the misconception that it’s “more work.” If we as educational leaders help shift this mindset, then our students will have greater success.

Considering the number of factors that go into choosing a personalized learning or adaptive learning program, I ask my fellow educational leaders: Where do you lie on this spectrum? In what capacity do you believe school districts have in assuring that these programs are adequately implemented and how do we get more people on board to not see this simply as “more work”?


Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda (2017). Orchestrating the Move to Student.pdfEducational Leadership.

Carter, Kim. (2017). Five Dispositions for PersonalizationEducational Leadership.

Lemke, C. (2013). Intelligent Adaptive Learning. In Dreambox Learning

7 Things You Need to Know About Adaptive Learning (2017). Educause.

7 Things You Should Know About Personalized Learning (2015). Educause.




  1. Hi, Mykayla.

    I see personalized learning, with the addition of a situated degree of adapted learning technology, as something that if implemented properly and with great thought, would be highly beneficial to a school’s learning environment. My concern is that not enough thought would be put into the process and that instead, as Stephen has suggested in his blog this week, schools would be more apt to simply throw money at untested and poorly researched programs. As with all best practice, administrators, educators, and students need to work together to collaborate on what is best for the school’s culture of learning and what they expect to experience from personalized learning with technology.

    I agree with Kim Carter that in order to best support their students, teachers need to be open to change and to invest in their own learning of the adaptive learning resources available. Educators need to make sure that whatever they choose to implement is viable and sustainable. Hand in hand with this positive mindset for educators, administrators need to be fully engaged in the use of adaptive learning, to fully research programs being put in place and to provide their teachers with full support, whether that be for professional development and training or IT support.


  2. Hi Mykayla: Your comfort with data use as a natural part of your job in special education gives you a particular lens on the adaptive learning. Being so familiar with data-informed moves and decisions seems to make you know or be comfortable with using it on a larger scale. Or imagining it being used on a larger scale. You note that adaptive learning needs to be connected with other methods, including human-based ones. A key to use of adaptive technologies seems to be a question of amount; how much and to what extent should digital adaptive tools be used at the elementary, middle and high school. And I agree with your statements that it needs to be not the sole method but used with other teaching methods. I’m curious about DreamBox and have seen students use Lexia, a reading program. It was an impressive tool in how engaging it was and the data that it collected and provided back to the teacher. I was excited about using this tool.


  3. Where do you lie on this spectrum? In what capacity do you believe school districts have in assuring that these programs are adequately implemented and how do we get more people on board to not see this simply as “more work”?

    I want to first start by saying that you and I are in the same camp Mykayla! I prefer to invest more in developing educators capacity to initiate personalized learning in their classrooms because personalized learning is essentially a different form of differentiation. However, I believe that we need to first deconstruct what is behind the reflexive “more work” complaint that educators respond with whenever they are confronted with a new initiative. Typically, this response is symptomatic of a lack of resources, a poor “walk up” or explanation of the “why behind the change” or over-fatigue. So I think first, data-driven instruction must be ingrained in the a school’s culture if personalized instruction is going to become a prioritiy. Second, buy-in has to be developed from a change management perspective. And then finally, school leaders have to create time for their teachers to learn and develop professionally. So if that means that principals and assistant principals are teaching classes in order to give grade level chairs additional time to plan or if it means shceduling multiple full day pd days for staff, then school leaders have to make it happen.


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