A “one size fits all” approach to education is flawed because it assumes all students learn in the same way. The idea of individualized or personalized learning refers to efforts to tailor education, whether delivered through a traditional classroom setting, hybrid or online course, to meet the different needs of learners. The concept dates to the 1960s and since then research suggests a personalized learning approach can increase learners’ motivation and engagement in learning activities and consequently improve learner outcomes.  

Around 2008, personalized learning began to draw more attention as educational technologies began to mature and more recently this has accelerated as big data and learning analytics have been used to further inform the personalization of learning. Personalized learning has now become a recurring trend across government agencies, conferences, research papers, and technological innovations.

What is personalized learning?

Also called individualized learning or adaptive learning, personalized-learning is a learner-centered model where the pace of learning, instructional strategies, content and activities begin from the understanding that students learn differently. Personalized learning accommodates different learner strengths, weaknesses, and interests. It puts students first, giving them control over their learning, differentiating instruction for each learner style, and providing real-time feedback.

What are the benefits of personalized learning?

Personalized learning has benefits for both teachers and students alike:

  • When students take control of their learning through providing them different options and preferences, you are empowering them to take responsibility for their learning, and consequently engagement in learning is increased. Increased engagement leads to greater learner outcomes, which is a key driver and performance indicator for education programs.
  • When a student has choice and is engaged in their learning activities, the role of the teacher is to guide students and help them achieve their learning objectives, rather than creating prescriptive activities that require ongoing enforcement and management.
  • By understanding the needs of each student, an educator or trainer can target the areas that require focus. This means material that’s already familiar to a learner can be skipped and more time invested on topics that are challenging to a particular student.
  • By delivering content in a method or form that suits a particular learner preference, there’s greater efficiency in the learning journey, which provides teachers and students the opportunity to invest in areas that require attention.

Success story implementing personalized learning in Moodle

A recent presentation, titled “Design Matters: Creating Personalized Learning in Moodle” by Kim Salinas, Moodle US Learning Designer and Stephen Geiersbach, Associate Professor Jackson College, Michigan reported on the success of implementing personalized learning preferences across subsequent offerings of a Moodle course. Where previously the course success rate was consistently around 70-80%, the success rate increased to 94% in the first run of the course and then 96% in the second offering once learners were presented with different resources and activities based on their selected learning preference. The success rate continues to be in the 90% range.

Course design 

The course design involved  an external URL quiz asking students about their natural preferences on where, how and with whom they preferred to learn. This allowed students to identify and select their learning preferences based on one of the following:

  1. Self-paced/solitary
  2. Read, write/kinesthetic
  3. Audio/visual social 
  4. I’m not sure

Students were also provided examples of the activities and resources available to them based on their chosen learning preference. They could change their selection at any time. As the student progressed through the course, the learning materials were delivered to them based on their learning preferences. All of these items were provided in the description area of the Group Choice plugin.

How to set this up in Moodle

The following Moodle LMS features were utilized to create the different learning preference groups in the Moodle course.

Group Choice

Group choice, based on the standard Choice activity, allowed students to enroll themselves into a particular learning preference group within the course.

Restrict access

The administrator enabled Restrict access by selecting the “Enable restricted access” box in Administration > Site administration > Advanced features

This allowed the teacher to ‘Add restriction’ button in the Activity setting screen. This section applies to all activities and resources, and in this instance allowed the teacher to restrict activities and resources to each learning preference group.

Overriding assignment deadlines

The Group Override feature allowed the teacher to set different quiz and assignment deadlines based on the group the learner selected. The self-paced solitary learner had 2 deadlines for the semester, whereas the other learners had weekly deadlines to keep them on track with the semester calendar.

Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. The class usually self-identifies about 50% as self-paced, solitary learners and they perform as well as the other more socially engaged groups. Student enjoy the flexibility the course offers them, not only with deadlines, but with the way the resources are presented. 

Educators need to meet the neurodiversity of their learners, and Moodle, with its depth of features, grounding in pedagogy and social constructionist theory, makes it easy to do so.