Personalized learning, differentiated teaching



Martijn Meeter 

While learning takes place at the level of the individual, education is a social activity. Almost always there is an instructor who teaches or at least structures the learning, and learners are virtually always taught in groups. This brings advantages and disadvantages with it. One advantage is that learners can learn from their peers, and that group processes can be used to promote learning (Beishuizen, 2008). A disadvantage is that, especially when groups are large, instructors can lose track of where individuals are in their learning process, while teaching can rarely be adapted to the needs of the individual learner. Because of this there is a trend within education to try to personalize education through differentiation: to diagnose the individual’s level and to tailor education to the individual. This would provide each learner with personalized education, tailored to the learning goals of the learner and with optimal feedback to prevent misunderstandings and help learning along.

We take the trend of personalized learning and differentiated teaching as a starting point of our research. We investigate the possibilities of personalization, and how it can improve education. In our research, we distinguish between two steps, which generate their own set of own research questions:

  • Diagnosis: how can a teacher structure education so that he/she gets an accurate diagnosis of the learning process of the learner? What role can formative assessment play, concept checks, feedback discussions, and ICT? How can the learner and the teacher discover the learner has understood a text? For larger groups, can learning analytics be used to make learning visible, and how can this information be presented in a useful way for both the teacher and the learner?
  • Action: how can a teacher, according to the diagnosis, personalize the education for the learner? What kind of strategies and (digital) tools does the teacher have? How can these strategies be taught to the teacher? What are the obstacles? Can education be changed in a way that it will be offering the appropriate learning content and practice? How can didactics be adapted accordingly? Is personalization already happening quite naturally by the actions of learners or peers? And, finally, the essential step: will such actions lead to greater and longer lasting learning results, and/or stronger motivation of the learner?

These are the three questions we have for the following three levels of education:
o general secondary education (in the Netherlands: havo and vwo).
o higher education (university and college)
o education for teachers (teacher training courses and seminars for teachers)

Next to the research inspired by the above questions, the group also performs research into specialized didactics for school subjects. This research is largely determined by questions from educational practice of (eg target language use in the field of modern foreign language teaching).