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REL Central Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness: Personalized Learning

September 2017


What does the research say about personalized learning?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response, and we offer them only for your reference. Also, we compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Çetinkaya, M. (2016). Design of personalized blended learning environments based on web-assisted modelling in science education. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 5(4), 323–330. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Positive results of science teaching studies supported with the means provided by technology require the enrichment of the content of blended learning environments to provide more benefits. Within this context, it is thought that preparing a web-assisted model-based teaching, which is frequently used in science teaching, based on the ‘Matter and Heat’ unit will be useful. A great number of studies on ‘Matter and Heat’ unit have reported that many students have conceptual errors. It has been found that students have difficulties in associating concepts such as matter, heat, temperature and change of state with daily life. Studies have shown the necessity of designing and using effective teaching methods in solving such problems. It is thought that the modeling based web materials developed for the unit of matter and heat will be effective in decreasing students’ conceptual errors and their learning difficulties. Assure teaching design model, which aims to increase the efficiency of material choice and use with systematic prior planning of teaching, was used in creating the materials which were prepared based on web-assisted modeling. The purpose of this study is to design of personalized blended learning environments which are designed based on web-assisted modeling for ‘Matter and Heat’ unit.”

Friend, B., Patrick, S., Schneider, C., & Vander Ark, T. (2017). What’s possible with personalized learning? An overview of personalized learning for schools, families & communities. Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the website:

“This paper is designed to inform schools, families and communities about the potential of personalized learning. This report describes why personalized learning matters and shows what personalized learning looks like in schools for teachers and for students.

Through case studies, this paper illustrates what personalized learning looks like in practice, provides examples of teachers personalizing learning in their schools and districts, and shares student perspectives on how new instructional designs are meeting their unique needs.”

Halverson, R., Barnicle, A., Hackett, S., Rawat, T., Rutledge, J., Kallio, J., ... Mertes, J. (2015). Personalization in practice: Observations from the field (WCER Working Paper No. 2015-8). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Education, Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Retrieved from

From the paper:

“Our report summarizes the early findings of a study to document the practices of personalized learning across a dozen Midwestern K–12 public schools. Our approach is to talk to teachers, students, and parents in the schools, visit the learning environments, and observe practices of teaching and learning so that we can develop a sense of how the principles of personalized learning are lived day to day.”

Lake, R., Hill, P. T., & Maas, T. (2015). Next generation school districts: What capacities do districts need to create and sustain schools that are ready to deliver on Common Core? Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Every sector of the U.S. economy is working on ways to deliver services in a more customized manner. If all goes well, education is headed in the same direction. Personalized learning and globally benchmarked academic standards (a.k.a. Common Core) are the focus of most major school districts and charter school networks. Educators and parents know students must be better prepared to think deeply about complex problems and to have skills that are relevant for jobs that haven’t yet been created. Promising school models are showing what’s possible, but innovation in the classroom only takes you so far. Twenty-first century learning practices demand twenty-first century systems. This paper goes deep into the question of which system policies are most likely to get in the way of implementing personalized learning at scale. We work outward from the school to define the new capacities and functions districts need to develop. We make the case that districts are currently unwittingly hostile to school-level innovation. For that to change, they must aggressively work to change the incentives, policies, and structures so that they encourage and free up schools to innovate.”

Murphy, M., Redding, S., & Twyman, J. S. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook on personalized learning for states, districts, and schools. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University, Center on Innovations in Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This volume suggests how teachers can enhance personalized learning by cultivating relationships with students and their families to better understand a child’s learning and motivation. Personalized learning also encourages the development of students’ metacognitive, social, and emotional competencies, thereby fostering students’ self-direction in their own education, one aimed at mastery of knowledge and skills and readiness for career and college. Chapters address topics across the landscape of personalized learning, including co-designing instruction and learning pathways with students; variation in the time, place, and pace of learning, including flipped and blended classrooms; and using technology to manage and analyze the learning process. The chapters include Action Principles to guide states, districts, and schools in personalizing learning.”

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., & Hamilton, L. S. (2015). Continued progress: Promising evidence on personalized learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“This report examines achievement in 62 public charter and district schools that are pursuing a variety of personalized learning practices, and examines implementation details in 32 of those schools. Researchers obtained achievement data for personalized learning students and a matched comparison group of students attending other schools serving similar populations. They also collected and analyzed data from site visits, interviews, and surveys to create a broad picture of the schools’ efforts to implement personalized learning and the perceptions of teachers and students. The achievement findings indicate that compared to peers, students in schools using personalized learning practices are making greater progress over the course of two school years, and that those students who started out behind are catching up to perform at or above national averages. The study finds that teachers at most schools were using data to understand student progress and make instructional decisions, all schools offered time for individual academic support, and the use of technology for personalization was widespread. However, some strategies, such as competency-based progression, were less common and more challenging to implement.”

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., Hamilton, L. S., & Pane, J. D. (2017a). Informing progress: Insights on personalized learning implementation and effects. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“In this report, we:

  • explore what PL looks like in a small sample of schools that have been focused on implementing PL approaches schoolwide
  • consider how the approaches to personalization in these schools compare to a national sample that represents more-typical practice in the United States
  • briefly discuss obstacles to PL implementation
  • discuss how PL implementation differs between charter schools and traditional district schools in our sample, and what factors seem to support or hinder implementation
  • describe how achievement growth for students in these schools differs from growth for similar students in other schools
  • discuss implications for policymakers, implementers, and funders.”

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., Hamilton, L. S., & Pane, J. D. (2017b). Observations and guidance on implementing personalized learning (Research brief). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“As part of a recent study for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, RAND Corporation researchers have sought to identify what PL looks like in a small sample of schools that were implementing PL approaches schoolwide. These schools received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative to support highly personalized approaches to learning. The researchers looked at what PL strategies were adopted, as well as obstacles to implementation. In addition, they explored how the approaches to personalization in these schools compared with a national sample that represented more typical practice in the United States. They also examined how PL implementation differs between charter schools and traditional district schools included in the NGLC sample.”

Project Tomorrow. (2012). Mapping a personalized learning journey: K–12 students and parents connect the dots with digital learning. Irvine, CA: Author. Retrieved from

From the report:

“For the past nine years, the Speak Up National Research Project has endeavored to stimulate new discussions around how technology tools and services can transform education and to provide a context to help educators, parents, and policy and business leaders think beyond today and envision tomorrow. In last year’s report, ‘The New 3E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged, Empowered – How Today’s Students are Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Learning,’ we examined the student articulated vision of socially-based, un-tethered and digital rich learning environments through the lens of students’ aspirations for mobile learning, online learning and e-textbooks. With this year’s report, we continue to gain greater appreciation for the unique student perspective on learning with an in-depth focus on personalized learning experiences and environments. We also examine the parents’ perspectives to understand not only their aspirations for more personalized learning but how they are enabling these learning opportunities as well for their child. And in the second report from this year’s Speak Up National Findings, we will share the educator perspective with new data findings on how teachers, librarians and administrators are personalizing learning with a variety of emerging technology tools and strategies.”

Redding, S. (2014). Personal competencies in personalized learning. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University, Center on Innovations in Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Personal competencies–cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and social/emotional–are applied by students in learning (mastery of knowledge and skills). These competencies are both acquired through learning and applied in the learning process. Personalized learning–a promising approach to education made practical by advances in technology–magnifies the importance of personal competencies. Underlying the optimism about personalized learning is the belief that a student’s desire to learn and effectiveness in learning are enhanced when the learning is personalized, meaning that the student is given greater choice in selecting topics, greater control over the learning environment and learning strategies, greater access to learning resources, and frequent feedback about learning progress. Placing the student in a more prominent role in learning only magnifies the importance of personal competencies. This report examines ways that personal competencies can be strengthened through school community, school culture, and the classroom. Templates for enhancing personal competencies in the design of the school’s contexts are included in this report.”

Twyman, J., & Redding, S. (2015a).Personalized competencies/personalized learning: Lesson plan reflection guide. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“Personalized learning requires a huge investment in the teacher’s instructional planning, as does the support of personal competencies. As lesson plans are critical to good instruction, it is important to know how they support, activate, foster, or strengthen student personal competencies and personalized learning. This ‘Lesson Plan Reflection Guide’ provides a framework to help educators consider how well their lesson plans support personal competencies and personalized learning. It may serve both as a rubric for evaluating how well a lesson plan personalizes and addresses personal competency, as well as a guide for strengthening lessons to foster personalization and enhance personal competencies.”

Twyman, J., & Redding, S. (2015b). Personalized competencies/personalized learning: Reflection on instruction. A peer-to-peer learning and observation tool. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This publication and its companion, ‘Personal Competencies/Personalized Learning: Lesson Plan Reflection Guide,’ were created in response to a request for further development of the practical application of personalized learning concepts by teachers. Personalized learning varies the time, place, and pace of learning for each student, and involves the student as a partner in their own education. Personal competencies underlie all learning. The four main competency areas are the following: (1) Cognitive Competency; (2) Metacognitive Competency; (3) Motivational Competency; and (4) Social/Emotional Competency. Personal competencies appear integral to learning, as they are acquired through learning and applied in the learning process. Personalized learning often amplifies the importance of personal competencies. As students are given greater choice and control over learning, their more prominent role in the entire learning process only magnifies the importance of personal competencies, and how educators may enhance and support them. This document features a peer-to-peer observation tool designed to help teachers support and learn from one another in the course of personalized learning, enhance personal competencies for all students, and use technology to support instruction. Using the tool enhances the ability to review and reflect on the lesson with accuracy and specificity–with a focus on student benefits across both instructional goals and personal competencies. Sustained use should strengthen educators’ ability to engage in honest, supportive, and deep reflection, with the goal of continued improvements in teaching and learning.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Resource Center:

From the website:

“A collection of educational resources from our partners and initiatives.”

International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Personalized Learning:

From the website:

“Working collaboratively with experts in the field, iNACOL publishes reports and related resources on key topics and tough issues that equip and empower educators and leaders to catalyze and scale personalized, next generation learning models.”

RAND Corporation, Personalized Learning:

About the website:

This page contains links to research reports conducted by RAND on the topic of personalized learning.


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Personalized learning AND K–12 education

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 2012 and 2017 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) currency of available data; (b) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, etc.; (c) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected samples, etc.), study duration, and so forth.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.