Including the Family in “Personalized Learning”

Personalized learning will mean something different for the parents of our students than for our students and our administrators and our teacher colleagues. As I continue to explore the topic of personalized learning, I haven’t seen a lot of information on personalized learning that includes families. For the most part, the crux of the conversation on personalized learning has been centered around teaching and learning. This obviously is important, however, where do the families of our students fit in within this educational shift?

Most districts and schools us the definition from The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) National Education Technology Plan (2010). Here is how they have defined personalized learning:

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).

Rickabaugh (2016) submitted that the USDOE’s definition missed a few key elements linked to personalized learning. He stated, “the USDOE’s definition stops short of recognizing the powerful role students must be allowed to play in setting learning goals, planning their learning paths, tracking their progress, and demonstrating their learning as partners and co-designers alongside educators”(p. 5). I agree with Rickabaugh’s assessment of the USDOE’s definition and I’d like to add to his list of key elements that there is a powerful role that families too, must be allowed to play other than the traditional role that they have been playing.

Rickabaugh and his colleagues illustrated the key elements of personalized learning in the form of a honeycomb (Institute for Personalized Learning, 2015). One of the key elements within that honeycomb, is family engagement. Rickabaugh submitted that, “families can play the traditional roles of providing support for learning at home, but they can now also review their children’s learning goals and activities, track their progress, and even serve as an audience for student demonstrations and performances” (p. 49).

But isn’t there more to family engagement than reviewing their children’s learning goals and activities, tracking their progress, and serving as an audience for student demonstrations and performances? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop his or her voice and his or her choice within the learning path? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop agency? Recognizing that each family is different and that families have the right to raise their children in a way that they see fit, it is important for educators to understand how families can impact student voice, choice, and agency within a personalized learning environment. Might I add that some students may have preferences and interests that are contrary to the culture of their family. And some students are not able to articulate their learning preferences, learning needs, and learning interests. So, the next best source for teachers who wish to implement personalized learning, is parents.

What tools can educators provide parents to help them support their child’s learning goals? What tools can educators provide parents to help them scaffold their child’s learning preferences and interests that are in line with the culture of the family? To answer these questions, educators can use the learner’s analysis to discuss with parents a prescribed learning path for their child that was co-designed with their child. During a parent teacher conference, teachers can gather insights from parents and strategies that will help support their child’s educational development. What is more, teachers and administrators will have to make it clear to parents that the role of the teacher within a personalized learning environment is shifting to a true facilitator of learning. Hence, parents will have to be even more present in their child’s education since the shift towards personalized learning promotes learner independence and self-regulation.

In sum, our knowledge about personalized learning is still evolving, thus the empty cells within the honeycomb model of personalized learning (Rickabaugh, 2016). As we are learning more about personalize learning, we should also study the influence of family engagement on the learners’ voice, choice, and agency.

The Institute for Personalized Learning (2015). Our Model.Retrieved September 3, 2018, from
Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the power of personalized learning: A roadmap for school leaders.
U.S. Department of Education. (2010). National education technology plan. Washington, DC: Author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Get new posts by email: