Reimagining Learning: Personalized Learning

This week in CEP 811, we watched a very thought provoking talk by Richard Culatta from TEDx called “Reimagining Learning.” The video can be viewed here and I would recommend watching it! Culatta covered several different topics, but the one that was most intriguing to me was the idea of personalized learning. He described several schools, one in New York, one in Detroit and one or two others, that used technology to track every student’s individual progress in their content areas and assign them tasks based on their progress. Students spend as much time as necessary on concepts until they demonstrate mastery. I thought that was incredible, so I decided to try and find out more about personalized learning and how technology is used in this way to guide ALL students to mastery.

I found two research articles on this topic, each with a different focus. The first is “A Comparison of Learning Management Systems in a School District: Searching for the Ideal Personalized Integrated Educational System (PIES)” (Yildirim, Reigeluth, Kwon, Kageto and Shao, 2013), and it is exactly what the title implies. The authors worked with a school district to pilot and evaluate different “PIES” in an effort to determine which one best suited their needs. This article detailed the features that should be available in a personalized learning environment and how this differs from the traditional “school” model. The second article that I read is called “The Role of Affective and Motivational Factors in Designing Personalized Learning Environments” (Kim, 2012). In this article the author discusses how previous experiences with failure and frustration can negatively affect students’ attitude, motivation, and performance in online classes. The article focused specifically on college-level remedial math courses, but I believe that these principles transcend all content areas and ages. A large focus of this article was the role of Virtual Change Agents (VCAs), which are “three dimensional, human like, animated characters” (567) that interact with students throughout their online course. They can be used to curb feelings of frustration, failure and other negative emotions by offering encouragement, additional resources or ideas for how students can improve their understanding of course concepts, how/where to seek help, etc. I had never heard of VCAs, so this article was a very interesting read.

Culatta proposed that we need to reimagine learning and use the technologies that we have available to do school differently. In their article, Yildirim (et al, 2013) state that “in the learner-centered paradigm, knowledge is constructed by students through gathering and synthesizing information to solve real world problems.” They also explain that “students are actively involved in the learning process” and that courses are designed so that all students “master learning objectives rather than being forced to move on to the next topic even if they have not yet mastered skills and understandings for the current topic” (722). Culatta referred to this as well, and to the fact that students would be expected to move on from a concept before they have mastered it, to build upon an incomplete or confused knowledge base, he said “I wonder how that’s going to go for them” (Reimagining Learning, 2013). Technology gives us the opportunity to track students’ progress so closely that we can personalize their learning options and opportunities to create a unique experience specifically for them – relevant, interesting and tailored to their preferences as a learner. So why wouldn’t we??? Money, time, resources, it’s overwhelming, etc. All those things are very real, but meanwhile we’re doing our students a disservice and sending them out into the world unprepared.

Kim’s study further demonstrates the benefits of content mastery. There is the obvious, mastery, but also the emotions that students experience when they are successful. Kim states that “cultivating positive emotions and reducing negative emotions can benefit learning processes and outcomes” (565). The reverse is also true – negative emotions (failure, frustration, etc.) have a detrimental effect on learning outcomes. Personalized learning environments allow students to experience continual success, which boosts their confidence and motivates them to continue pursuing their goals and digging deeper into content. The technology that is available to personalize learning and give students a learning experience that is literally tailored to them, through which they will master ALL concepts that they study, is incredible.

In a personalized learning system, all students reach the same goals but they have control over how they get there and how long it takes. This type of system encourages free thinking, innovation and creativity, and also gives students opportunities to spend more time on the topics that interest them. When students enjoy these freedoms and have control over their learning processes, they experience continual success and are motivated and positive about their education. In our world, it is free thinking, creativity and innovation that are going to move us forward as a society. These are the qualities of Makers, and personalized learning cultivates Makers – it allows students to identify their passions, the concepts that come naturally to them, their learning preferences and strengths. They are confident and ready to put their solid educational foundation together with their ability to innovate, create and think critically to MAKE something amazing. So, why don’t we provide all students with these opportunities? This is the way the world is going – what are we waiting for??


Kim, ChanMin. (2012). The role of affective and motivational factors in designing personalized learning environments. Educational Technology, Research and Development 60.4, 563-584. doi: 10.1007/s11423-012-9253-6. Retrieved from Michigan State University:

TEDx. (2013, January 10). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from

Yildirim, Z., Reigeluth, C. M., Kwon, S., Kageto, Y. & Shao, Z. (2013). A comparison of learning management systems in a school district: searching for the ideal personalized integrated educational system (PIES). Interactive Learning Environments, 22:6, 721-736. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2012.745423. Retrieved from Michigan State University:


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