Some Thoughts on Personalization vs. Customization

I draw the distinction between personalized learning which is a function of a student’s aspirations and customized learning which is an extension of differentiation, or finding ways to make a standardized curriculum more digestible to the individual learner.

Personalization is more consistent with Progressive educational ideals which place the student at the center of the learning process. In school, the learning process is based on a relationship between the student, the teacher, and his or her parents. Personalization puts a renewed emphasis on the student-parent elements of this relationship by asking, “what are your hopes and dreams” and having this conversation inform the learning process and the purpose of education over time. In this relationship, the teacher represents accumulated knowledge (e.g. standards), the wisdom of the human experience, and society’s interest in seeing students develop a commitment to civic ethics.

For the first time in history we have the tools and technology to manage, and put more emphasis on, personal student learning aspirations as a design element of the schooling experience. In the US, however, we continue to pursue education policies focused on customizing standardized learning experiences to meet narrow societal outcomes such as “college and career readiness.” Such a focus might or might not support student aspirations, whereas starting with student goals as the foundation of schooling will by definition support societal interests.

We want all of our students to be successful. The point is they will most likely be successful if we help them reach their full potential through education, which necessitates acknowledging who they are and who they want to be in the process of schooling itself.