The start of a new year is the best time to reflect and review what happened the previous year. One of the areas that has received the most attention in K-12 education, dominating headlines, conversations, and research, was personalized learning.

Personalized learning remains a broad topic. But it often refers to innovative approaches to tailoring instruction to fit students’ individual needs and increase their autonomy over how, when, where, or what they learn.

Proponents believe personalized learning offers the best way to prepare students for college and career success. In 2017, two of the biggest names in education funding, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, continued to pledge their support (and millions of dollars) to promote the potential of personalized approaches.

Opponents of personalized learning, however, are quick to point out reasons why it is not the solution to our education problems. From educators who are hesitant to abandon a model that has worked for them, to edtech skeptics that fear computers will replace teachers, many question the benefits in an approach that has little research supporting its ability to improve most students’ outcomes.

Amidst these debates, one thing is abundantly clear: personalized learning is not a one-size-fits-all method. Schools and students have different needs that can’t all be met with one single model or tool. If we can agree on this, we can also agree that we need research and thought leadership from multiple organizations, dealing with diverse populations, and conducted under various circumstances if we hope to fully understand the potential and pitfalls of personalized learning efforts.

In that spirit, let’s take a look at what a selection of research and reports analyzing innovative approaches to school design uncovered in 2017.

Competency-based education

Policy, Pilots, and the path to competency-based education: A National Landscape”

This report provides recommendations for states in shifting to competency-based education given their unique needs. The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelInEd) and the EducationCounsel highlight pilot and other innovative programs that can create policy pathways without a complete overhaul of current state laws and policies. It also suggests states on how to leverage existing policies to aid the transition to competency-based education. For a deep dive into three states taking this journey, check out The Path to Personalized Learning: The Next Chapter in the Tale of Three States.

Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education

In this report, CompetencyWorks and the International Association for K-12 online learning (iNACOL) observe the progress schools have made in their quest for competency-based education. Through school visits, conversations with practitioners, and other research, the report offers four key issues that warrant attention. This report explains why addressing all four issues is essential to having an equitable and high-quality competency-based model.

Low Stakes Completion-Based Funding: A New Approach to Financing Competency-Based Education

This report details how New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) implemented completion-based funding. This model seeks to improve student outcomes by partially funding schools when students complete classes, rather than when they enroll. The report discusses the risks and benefits that VLACS experienced under this approach and provides suggestions for how New Hampshire might improve its funding model.

Online and blended learning

Summary of Research on Online and Blended Learning Programs that Offer Differentiated Learning Options

This IES report summarizes the methodology and findings of research into 14 different K-12 online and blended learning programs. It analyzes what this research says about the effect of blended approaches on student achievement outcomes, particularly those programs that offer differentiated learning options. Educators may use the findings from this report to consider and make decisions about individual online and blended learning programs.

Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report

This report from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute highlights key information, such as 2015-2016 enrollment rates, completion rates, and the overall impact of online programs on K-12 students in Michigan based on data from Michigan public schools. The data suggests that students can succeed with virtual programs and that the number of students enrolled in at least one virtual class is increasing.

The Back on Track Study: Using Online Courses for Credit Recovery

This America Institutes for Research (AIR) report is broken down into a series of research briefs that discuss the findings regarding the relative impact online versus face-to-face Algebra I credit recovery on student’s academic outcomes. It also touches on the effects of over-time of expanding credit recovery options for at-risk students. The research briefs cover a wide range of variables that could have an impact on student performance.

Teaching with Technology: Educators’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Successful Blended Learning Instructional Strategies”

Interested in stories from teachers about their experience incorporating digital tools and resources into their classrooms? This Foundation for Blended and Online Learning and the Evergreen Education Group report shares real teachers’ stories while presenting informative data and helpful recommendations for anyone interested in implementing blended learning models.

Personalized learning

Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects”

In this report, the RAND Corporation provides key findings from schools in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)’s Breakthrough School Models program that implemented personalized learning models. It describes the practices and strategies the schools used to implement personalized learning, highlights some of the difficulties and benefits of each approach. It analyzes teacher and student outcomes, including modest improvements in math outcomes and no statistically significant improvements in reading outcomes. The report concludes by providing recommendations for state and local policymakers, as well as for school leaders and education funders.

All That We’ve Learned: Five Years Working on Personalized Learning”

In this report, Silicon Schools Fund provides its findings from observations of innovative schools in the San Francisco Bay area over the last five years. Through their research, they uncovered key insights on the implementation of personalized learning, three areas that require more attention, and practices to help guide personalized learning implementation towards its best results.

What’s Possible with Personalized Learning? An Overview of Personalized Learning for Schools, Families & Communities”

This report from iNACOL aims to inform schools, families, and their communities about the potential of personalized learning. Through cases studies of schools, it illustrates what personalized learning looks like in practice and how it can meet the needs of individual students. This can be a powerful tool to help ignite conversations around personalized learning.

Leadership Competencies: For Learner-centered, personalized education”

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF) put out a report that aims to identify the knowledge, skills, and dispositions education leaders must master to construct and sustain learner-centered, personalized learning environments. Education leaders who are early adopters of innovative approaches, who are accountable for the learning outcomes of students, and who support groups of educators should be sure to check it out.

Designing Innovative High Schools: Implementation of the Opportunity by Design Initiative After Two Years”

This interim report by the RAND Corporation summarizes key findings from the first two years following the launch of a network of small high schools that focus on ten innovative design principles. These principles, if fully implemented, should result in a high-performing school that is distinctly different from a traditional school. The report provides detailed examples of how schools are implementing the design principles, along with strengths and challenges of this approach. The report concludes by providing recommendations to support the implementation of innovative school designs, particularly in the early stages.

Pacesetter in Personalized Learning”

This article documents the story of Summit Public Schools on its path to make personalized learning work. It is full of stories from its founding to the impact it has had on other schools. Summit Public Schools have shown a commitment to improving education by creating “self-directed” learners through their personalized learning approach. Summit develops and shares their Summit Learning Program (SLP) with other schools to help support personalized approaches in those environments.  For a deeper look at the evolution of Summit’s approach check out “The Science of Summit,” published by the school network itself.

Landscape Analysis of Personalized Learning in Massachusetts”

This report from the MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech) Consortium showcases the results from a statewide analysis of the progress Massachusetts public school districts have made in transitioning to a personalized learning model. Key findings from the report include the prevalence of personalized learning teaching practices, the challenges districts still face to expand personalized learning, and the characteristics of early adopters of personalized learning approaches.

Cracking the Code: How Practitioners Conceptualize and Implement Personalized Learning”

Ever wondered what various practitioners think about personalized learning? EdSurge and a team of experts analyzed a multitude of sources to find the characteristics of personalized learning experiences. The report includes the instructional and structural strategies and technology that schools and districts use to support personalized learning and the challenges that schools and districts face when transitioning to personalized learning environments.

Preparing students for the future

2017 State of the States: Fulfilling our promise to America’s students

Education Superhighways’ State of the States report serves as a tracker of the progress made by U.S. states towards the K-12 online connectivity goals established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  This report highlights what states have done so far as well as what still remains to be done. It also provides action plans for state and school leaders, as well as for internet service providers, to aid them in reaching these goals.

Defining Graduate Aims: A Collection of Research and Resources for Designing Teams

A resource for school design teams, this collection of research from Transcend presents its latest thinking on the competencies students need to succeed in the 21st century. From showcasing trends that drive the need for innovative educational models, to providing a range of learner outcomes that research suggests are important to future success, this is a great tool for anyone looking to design new teaching and learning environments. Transcend also provides additional resources to help teams explore and create their own graduate aims.

The Age of Agility: Education Pathways for the Future of Work

In this report, America Succeeds looks ahead to massive shifts occurring in the school-to-employment pipeline. Their goal is to empower educators, policymakers, and business leaders to work together to address the skill gaps in students and prepare them for 21st century jobs. They recommend doing so by removing barriers to innovation, adopting high accountability frameworks, and partnering to provide new forms of job training. Additionally, they call for individuals to take agency over lifelong learning, with the support of higher education institutions and employers.


  • Luis Flores
    Luis Flores