Differentiation, individualization and personalization: What they mean, and where they’re headed

Aug 01, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Mostly we read about 'what they mean' and a lost less about 'where they're headed', but as a template to distinguish between these three concepts this post will do as well as any.

  • Differentiation: "The teacher drives instruction and adjusts lessons that are best suited for each particular group."
  • Individualization: "The teacher still drives instruction – but, unlike differentiation, an individualized lesson is designed to accommodate the particular needs for an individual learner."
  • Personalization: "The teacher is no longer the sole driver of instruction – each learner now collaborates with the teacher to drive his or her learning."

What distinguishes different types of personalization are the elements the student can control or influence. In most cases, these are solely delivery related, such as pacing or modality. The learning outcome, in all three models, remains as defined by the institution.


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