Targeting Personalized Learning – Assessment?

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July 30, 2017 by Dr. Robbie Barber

@EdSurge came to town the other night (Atlanta) and gathered an eclectic group of educators to discuss personalized learning.  While part of the point of this EdSurge Tech Leaders Circle was to meet and greet, we also went through some exercises to help define personalized learning.  My table had @MrsNorsworthy, @Megahannmf and @CourtneyLTeague.  The definition we gathered was that personalized learning meant that the learner knew what the target was, where they were in relationship to the target and had the tools (including teachers!) to get to the target.

Each group shared their definitions and we can discover that none of us were identical.  It shows that even among a group of dedicated educational technology junkies, we did not see it exactly the same way.  According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, the report Reimaging the Role of Technology in Education (2017):

“Personalized Learning refers to instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) may all vary based on learner needs. In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated. (p.9)”

This is a lot more specific that just knowing the target and getting there, but it does essentially say the same thing.

The piece that seems to be missing is the student motivation.  I’ve worked with middle and high schoolers and just because you tell them they can explore on their own, doesn’t mean they will.  One bad experience will affect the student’s outcomes for a long time (Kim, 2012).  There needs to be a plan to introduce personalized learning and to give students opportunities to try things out without the pressures of assessments.  Even pre-assessments, that can take a full class period, are too much.  We have a generation of students that are told the importance of data.  How do we manage student motivation when its wrapped around standardized data collection?

What if pre-assessments were no more than 3-5 questions? Just an outline of what students are and are not familiar with.  Note the word “familiar”.  I’m not asking if they can solve the problems, just if they have a passing acquaintance to the material.

What if post-assessments checked for abilities with the materials AND acted as a pre-assessment for the next part?

What if all assessments lasted under 30 minutes?  Do they really need to be that detailed to know if the material was absorbed or not?

Working with students and teachers, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  But we need to start questioning our assumptions, better analyzing the data we have, limit our overload of testing and make sure that both our students and our teachers are motivated in the classroom.  As we move forward, we will continue to “expand the use of ongoing, formative, and embedded assessments that are less disruptive and more useful for improving learning” (U.S. Dept of Ed., 2017, p. 55).


Kim, C. (2012). The role of affective and motivational factors in designing personalized learning environments. Educational Technology Research & Development60(4), 563-584.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in education: The 2017 National Education Plan Update. Retrieved from


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