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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

February 2018


What is the availability of research and resources from 2010 forward that focus on personalized learning through the lens of equity?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on personalized learning. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to the lens of equity. For details on the databases, sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Afterschool Alliance. (2011). Student-centered learning in afterschool: Putting students’ needs and interests first (Afterschool Alert, Issue Brief No. 54). Washington, DC: Afterschool Alliance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Today’s classrooms reflect a full spectrum of abilities, interests and cultures. In part due to standardized testing's influence on the school curriculum and the pace at which students must move through the coursework, meeting the needs of individual students during the school day is challenging. Many students are falling behind and, as a result, there is a growing necessity to provide more student-centered, personalized learning opportunities that accommodate different interests and approaches to learning. With the support and guidance of teachers and caring adults, students can become the center of their own learning and have the power to create innovative and experiential projects and activities. Increasingly, high quality afterschool programs focused on the whole child are helping youth gain access to more resources and providing an unparalleled space for them to have a hand in their own learning in ways that suit their most pressing needs and keenest interests. Innovative afterschool programs with a student-centered approach have the potential to prepare youth as responsible citizens who are in control of their future.”

Blankstein, A. M., Noguera, P., & Kelly, L. (Eds.) (2016). Excellence through equity: Five principles of courageous leadership to guide achievement for every student. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “‘Excellence Through Equity’ is an inspiring look at how real-world educators are creating schools where all students are able to thrive. In these schools, educators understand that equity is not about treating all children the same. They are deeply committed to ensuring that each student receives what he or she individually needs to develop their full potential—and succeed. To help educators with what can at times be a difficult and challenging journey, Blankstein and Noguera frame the book with five guiding principles of Courageous Leadership: (1) Getting to your core; (2) Making organizational meaning; (3) Ensuring constancy and consistency of purpose; (4) Facing the facts and your fears; and (5) Building sustainable relationships. They further emphasize that the practices are grounded in three important areas of research that are too often disregarded: (1) child development, (2) neuroscience, and (3) environmental influences on child development and learning. Following a Dedication, Foreword—by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Acknowledgments, this book is organized into the following sections and chapters: Part I: For Every Student: Introduction: Achieving Excellence Through Equity for Every Student (Alan M. Blankstein and Pedro Noguera); (1) Brockton High School, Brockton, Massachusetts (Susan Szachowicz); and (2) The Path to Equity: Whole System Change (Michael Fullan). Part II: Getting to Your Core: (3) Building a School of Opportunity Begins With Detracking (Carol Corbett Burris); (4) The Voices and Hearts of Youth: Transformative Power of Equity in Action (Linda Harper); and (5) Empowering Students and Teachers Through Performance-Based Assessment (Avram Barlowe and Ann Cook). Part III: Making Organizational Meaning: (6) Human Capital as a Lever for Districtwide Change (Ann Blakeney Clark); (7) Personalized Learning (Allison Zmuda); (8) Who Wants a Standardized Child Anyway? Treat Everyone the Same—Differently—(Dennis Littky); and (9) Equitable Ways to Teach Science to Emergent Bilinguals and Immigrant Youth (Estrella Olivares-Orellana). Part IV: Ensuring Constancy and Consistency of Purpose: (10) The Journey Toward Equity and Excellence: The Massachusetts Experience (Paul Reville). Part V: Facing the Facts and Your Fears: (11) Focusing on Equity Propelled Us From Good to Great: Abington School District's Opportunity to Learn Initiative (Amy F. Sichel and Ann H. Bacon); and (12) Equity and Achievement in the Elementary School: How We Redesigned Our Math Instruction to Increase Achievement for Every Child (Darlene Berg). Part VI: Building Sustainable Relationships: (13) A Journey Toward Equity and Excellence for All Students in Chesterfield (Marcus J. Newsome); and (14) Equity Through Expanded Learning Time (Lucy N. Friedman and Saskia Traill). Part VII: Coda: (15) The Iniquity of Inequity: And Some International Clues About Ways to Address (Andy Hargreaves).”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Corry, M., & Carlson-Bancroft, A. (2014). Transforming and turning around low-performing schools: The role of online learning. Journal of Educators Online, 11(2). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This review of the literature examines online learning as a core strategy for bold, dramatic curricular reform within transformational or turnaround models in improving low-performing K-12 schools. The analysis of the literature in this area found benefits of online learning in transforming and turning around low-performing schools to include: (a) broadening access for all students and providing opportunities for students to recover course credit, (b) the potential to motivate and engage students due to the flexible and self-paced nature of online learning, and (c) providing highly individualized and differentiated environments allowing for personalized learning. As a number of schools and school districts move to online learning, it can be used not only as a curricular reform, but also as a tool to improve student achievement and turning around low-performing schools.”

Gleason, S. C., & Gerzon, N. (2013). Growing into equity: Professional learning and personalization in high-achieving schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “What makes a Title I school high-achieving, and what can we all learn from that experience? Professional learning and leadership that supports personalized instruction makes the difference, as captured in the ground-breaking research of authors Sonia Caus Gleason and Nancy Gerzon. This illuminating book shows how four outstanding schools are making individualized learning a reality for every teacher and student. The common thread is the commitment to equity—every student achieving. Readers will find: (1) Guidance on identifying obstacles to equity within your school; (2) Background that builds a case for personalized learning; (3) Four case studies that show the lived values, professional learning practices, leadership, and systems that have helped schools transform learning; and (4) How-to’s and templates for creating a team-based professional development program that expands individualized instruction in every classroom. Discover new approaches for individual, team, and whole school professional learning that support personalized learning, drawn from schools that are leaders in overcoming challenges and creating opportunities. Contents include: (1) The Case for Professional Learning to Support Equity and Personalization; (2) Know Them by Name, Know Them by Need: Stults Road Elementary School (PreK-6), Dallas, Texas; (3) Students First: Social Justice Humanitas Academy (Grades 9-12), Los Angeles, California; (4) The Variables Are Time and Support: Montgomery Center School (PreK-8), Montgomery Center, Vermont; (5) Heat and Light: Tusculum View Elementary School (PreK-5), Greeneville, Tennessee; (6) Equity and Supporting Core Values; (7) Personalized Adult and Student Learning; (8) Leadership and Systems; and (9) Call to Action.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Newstead, B., Wright, C. M., & Colby, S. (2010). Next generation learning: Can we crack four problems to unleash quality education for all? Boston, MA: Bridgespan Group. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Everyone knows that every single child should receive a high-quality education. Not only is it the ticket to opportunity in America and around the world, but also research has shown clearly that there are life-limiting implications for children who are not adequately educated. Where to start? As the authors reflect on their work and research in education, they hypothesize that at least four systemic problems, which have not been widely addressed in reform, are inhibiting the nation’s ability to effect breakthrough change. These are: (1) Lack of personalization of content; (2) Lack of appeal to different learning styles; (3) Inability of teachers to play to their true strengths; and (4) Lack of effective reforms at a reasonable cost. The rest of this paper focuses on these high-potential innovations. The authors’ intent however, is to generate ideas, not claim victory. These answers are: (1) Develop personalized learning pathways for all students; (2) Open up a variety of avenues for student learning by offering options beyond the traditional lecture format; (3) Deploy teachers in ways that leverage their individual strengths and increase their effectiveness; and (4) Create solutions that are cost-competitive with the existing system.”

Patrick, S., & Sturgis, C. (2015). Maximizing competency education and blended learning: Insights from experts (CompetencyWorks Issue Brief). Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Students will face enormous challenges in the coming years—from an economy shaped by ever-advancing technologies to the impact of globalization—and need the strongest foundation of academic, technical, and problem-solving skills we can offer. In an effort to improve their educational experiences, schools across the country are exploring and implementing new approaches, many of which share a common goal: to provide greater personalization and ensure that each and every student has the knowledge, skills, and competencies to succeed. Personalized learning, blended learning, and competency-based learning are becoming of increasing interest to district leaders at the front of transformation efforts. These efforts rely on support and direction from a limited pool of technical assistance providers in the field. Technical assistance providers are individuals or organizations with expertise in their respective fields who are charged with providing implementation assistance such as strategic planning, training, resources, and direct assistance to schools and districts. Each provider has expertise in some areas; few have expertise in all of them. Thus, the implication for districts is that the transformation process is staggered to allow for the implementation of one major strategy and then another, rather than taking on a broad-sweeping comprehensive approach. In May 2014, CompetencyWorks brought together twenty-three technical assistance providers to examine their catalytic role in implementing next generation learning models, share each other's knowledge and expertise about blended learning and competency education, and discuss next steps to move the field forward with a focus on equity and quality. The strategy maintains that by building the knowledge and networks of technical assistance providers, these groups can play an even more catalytic role in advancing the field. The objective of the convening was to help educate and level set the understanding of competency education and its design elements, as well as to build knowledge about using blended learning modalities within competency-based environments. This paper attempts to draw together the wide-ranging conversations from the convening to provide background knowledge for educators to understand what it will take to transform from traditional to personalized, competency-based systems that take full advantage of blended learning. The primary focus is to address the key considerations that face districts as they move forward. The authors consider the discussion offered here as a first step in a very steep learning curve that they will be making to fully maximize competency-based structures and blended learning modalities.”

Patrick, S., Worthen, M., Frost, D., & Gentz, S. (2016). Promising state policies for personalized learning. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Students, teachers, and school leaders are seeking flexibility and supports to enable powerful, personalized learning experiences both inside and outside of the traditional classroom. In personalized learning, instruction is tailored to each student's strengths, needs, and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible. This is in contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional K-12 education model, in which learning is not differentiated and students are expected to progress through the same curriculum at the same pace. This report is designed for policymakers who want to advance policies that support personalized learning in their states. This report provides examples of promising state policies to scale and enable personalized learning. The intent is to inform and empower the field with examples from states creating supportive policy environments.”

Rose, R. (2014). Access and equity for all learners in blended and online education. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Online education has become an accepted part of the educational landscape over the past two decades. Digital resources are the norm in classrooms. The expectation is that all students will benefit from technology some way. In order for that to be the case, however, sometimes more overt action is needed to ensure that all students do in fact get full benefit of digital resources and online learning. Equity in education has been a basic tenet of public education in the United States, made explicit by civil rights legislation beginning with passage of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Subsequently, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 ensured civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, legislation alone does not guarantee that all students will be provided with the access and equity necessary to take full advantage of the educational opportunities all students are entitled to. The increasing role of technology to deliver content and instruction presents challenges for all educational programs, including blended and online learning. The goal of this publication is to raise awareness amongst educators, especially those in the blended and online community, of the importance of ensuring that all students are able to take advantage of all educational opportunities available to them. Its purpose is to provide guidance, direction, and resources to help programs meet their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to best ensure all students have access to the educational opportunities provided for them in online and digital learning. Four appendices are included: (1) Federal and State Legal Requirements for Equal Education Opportunity and Access; (2) List of links to guidance documents issued by OCR that provide detailed information about issues of access (3) List of resources; and (4) Information on screen readers.”

Rose, R., Jones, L., Casey, M., & Worthen, M. (2015). Realizing the promise: Making personalized learning accessible to all learners [Webinar]. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Retrieved from

From the description: “Using blended and online learning to create personalized learning environments can provide the least restrictive, most tailored education for students with disabilities. However, new learning models must be designed with all learners in mind to realize that promise. Watch this webinar for a conversation with national experts on making blended and online learning accessible to students with disabilities, and ensuring the personalized learning environments that they create are equitable. From course access quality reviews, to assessment policies, to new learning model design and implementation, this webinar addressed topics of interest to both policymakers and educators.”

Sturgis, C., & Jones, A. (2017). In pursuit of equality: A framework for equity strategies in competency-based education. Retrieved from

From the Introduction: “Our challenge at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education is to explore, clarify, and develop recommendations on how to approach and improve equity within a personalized, competency-based system. The driving questions include: How should we define equity to be meaningful in a personalized, competency-based system? How can competency-based learning systems and schools make outcomes more transparent and take responsibility for addressing equity issues? What do we know about improving equity? What elements should be integrated into competency-based structures? What practices should be integrated into any classroom? How can we work together as a field to ensure that competency-based systems take full advantage of what we know about equity strategies to benefit all students, especially those who have been historically underserved? This paper seeks to unpack the concept of equity, review key equity strategies that have been developed to serve historically underserved students, and offer an initial framework to launch discussion at the Summit.”

WestEd. (2014). Equity-focused schools carry all students to high levels. San Francisco, CA: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Despite decades of experience supporting efforts from local to state levels to improve learning for underserved students, Sonia Caus Gleason and WestEd’s Nancy Gerzon could not point to examples of entire schools accomplishing what they believed was possible: high-poverty public schools personalizing learning for all students to consistently reach high achievement. They began asking colleagues to identify exemplary schools that met their dual criteria of high poverty and high achievement. A typical response: ‘I don't know any, but tell me when you find them.’ Gleason and Gerzon persisted, eventually selecting four schools to study in depth. ‘The schools actually exceeded our expectations,’ says Gerzon, a WestEd Senior Program/Research Associate. ‘The sophistication and intensity with which they personalize learning for students and staff goes well beyond what we thought we'd see.’ She and Gleason capture what they learned from these four exemplary schools in a new book, ‘Growing Into Equity: Professional Learning and Personalization.’”

Additional Organizations to Consult

International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) –

From the website: “iNACOL is a nonprofit organization with the mission to drive the transformation of education systems and accelerate the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all.”

Research Alliance for Personalized Learning –

From the website: “Educators are beginning to access tools with the potential to personalize instruction to individual student needs as never before. A consortium of rural, small-town, and suburban districts in Delaware is aiming to transform instructional practice to make it student centered. The consortium seeks the REL’s assistance to identify promising practices and provide tools for evaluating model personalized learning lessons.”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • personalized learning equity

  • personalized learning access

  • competency-based learning equity

  • individualized instruction equity

  • blended learning equity

Databases and Search Engines

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

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for 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.