Personalised Learning: Unleashing the Power of Student-centred Learning and Differentiated Instruction to Unlock Every Student's Potential


In a world where no two learners are identical, teaching approaches must adapt to cater to the diverse needs of all students. Welcome to the realm of personalised learning and differentiated teaching — an educational strategy that’s quickly transforming classrooms across the globe. At its core, personalised learning ensures each learner's unique needs and abilities are recognised and supported, allowing them to reach their fullest potential. This revolutionary approach is rooted in differentiated instruction, a teaching philosophy that advocates for adaptability, inclusivity, and equitable education.

If you're thinking 'that's all well and good, but how can educators possibly personalise their teaching for every single student?' then you're not alone. It's certainly not easy, but with the right strategies, techniques, and tools, it's eminently doable.

Understanding and implementing personalised learning is no longer a futuristic dream, but an urgent necessity if you believe all students, regardless of their individual learning styles and capacities, deserve equal opportunities to succeed academically. Differentiated instruction provides a responsive and flexible framework that allows educators to accommodate a range of learning styles, thereby fostering an environment conducive to student growth and achievement.

Read on to explore the myriad benefits and practical application of learning personalisation in modern Australian classrooms. If you're a teacher or involved in the Australian education industry, you're about to embark on a journey that could profoundly shape your approach to teaching and learning.

Demystifying personalised Learning: The power of differentiated instruction

Carol Anne Tomlinson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia's School of Education and Human Development, once said "If we take on the responsibility of teaching, we accept the responsibility of making sure that every kid learns as well as they possibly can". But, when every child enters the learning environment with unique capabilities, interests, and learning preferences, how can teachers design their classes in such a way that every child thrives, let alone achieves their full potential?

The short answer is that there's no way one teacher can design a single, rigid lesson plan that will perfectly meet the needs of their entire class of 25 kids. As Education Week put it, “How can a teacher keep a reading class of 25 on the same page when four students have dyslexia, three students are learning English as a second language, two others read three grade levels ahead, and the rest have widely disparate interests and degrees of enthusiasm about reading?”

But what if teachers didn't educate from a single, tightly-structured plan? Enter personalised learning.

Personalised learning, with its core in differentiated instruction and student-centred learning, offers a compelling framework to meet this challenge.

So, what exactly is student-centred learning? Essentially, it's an educational model that places the learner's interests, abilities, and learning style at the forefront. It focuses on the student's learning needs and encourages active participation in the learning process, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. In a student-centred classroom, learning is tailored to engage each student individually, enhancing their overall learning experience and outcome.

Imagine the hypothetical reading class Education Week posited. With its diverse mix of learners, how does a teacher ensure an inclusive learning experience centred around each child? Differentiated instruction provides the solution.

Differentiated instruction is a practical embodiment of student-centred learning. It's the process of identifying individual student needs and tailoring instruction to meet them where they are.

Differentiated instruction, at its heart, recognises the inherent fact that 'equal' does not always mean 'equitable'. It strives to provide 'equitable' opportunities by adapting the teaching approach according to the unique needs of each learner. We'll use our fictional reading class to illustrate how it achieves this.

There are four essential elements that constitute differentiated instruction:

  1. Content: This refers to the knowledge and skills a student needs to acquire. For instance, teachers could modify reading assignments based on each student's reading level, ensuring an engaging and suitable challenge for all, even those students reading three grade levels ahead. Here are some practical ways a teacher might achieve this.
    • Separate students into small groups based on reading or mastery level, then assign readings on a similar topic at a level that matches the needs of each group.
    • Pair students with reading buddies within these groups to support one and make the content more interactive.
    • Tailor spelling words or vocabulary lists to student readiness.
  2. Process: This covers the variety of ways in which students can engage with and master educational content. It could mean making materials available online for students who prefer reading or re-reading outside the classroom (a learning management system (LMS) makes this much easier), and providing both an audiobook option, for auditory learners, and printable materials, for students who prefer physical annotation.
  3. Product: This pertains to the different ways in which students can demonstrate their mastery of the content, such as through assessments, written reports, visual projects, or presentations. The key here is to give every child the option of choosing a format that will enable them to show their understanding of learned concepts with confidence. For instance, a dyslexic student may be daunted by a written assignment but may enjoy being able to present their knowledge verbally. Whereas a child who feels they're not as advanced as other students in the class, may prefer to complete a take-home assessment, so they can complete it in their own time without any perceived pressure from peers to get it done in a certain time.
  4. Learning environment: This is the physical and/or virtual space where learning happens. A great learning environment for differentiated instruction encourages collaboration and also allows for independent study both within the classroom at outside it. For example, a lower-primary-school teacher might provide a virtual environment for children to do 'readers' at home independently or with a parent or guardian. And within the classroom, secluded pods might enable children to do one-on-one reading with a support teacher or community volunteer, while grouped desks might provide a great space for small-group reading activities.

The understanding that every student learns differently and at varying rates has steered educators away from rigid standardisation. The emphasis is now on ensuring that all students master the same standards, even if they need to be taught in different ways. Differentiated instruction and student-centred learning are key pillars of personalised learning, and the shift away from standardised teaching makes personalised learning not only important but critical in today's classrooms. Hopefully the above glimpses have illuminated the power of this wonderful educational approach and you can appreciate that by adopting these practices within the ANZ educational landscape, we're taking a powerful stride towards ensuring every student can learn as well as they possibly can, truly embodying the spirit of equity in education.

Putting personalised learning into practice: differentiated strategies and the tools that support them

In the world of education, understanding a concept and applying it are two different things. The same goes for personalised learning and differentiated instruction. So, how can teachers put these principles into action?

Differentiated teaching strategies hinge upon recognising the individual needs and learning styles of students. By adjusting lesson plans, activities, and assessments, teachers can engage students at different academic levels and learning styles. For example, they could group students based on their reading or mastery levels and assign appropriately levelled readings on a similar topic. It's not about making things easier for certain students, but about ensuring each student is challenged and engaged at a level that suits their abilities and learning preferences.

But how are educators supposed to keep track of where each student is at, let alone their personal learning preferences? And on top of that, how can teachers deliver different educational materials to each child efficiently? Thankfully technology makes this so much easier.

Embracing a diverse toolkit for personalised learning

A varied toolkit for personalised learning can significantly enhance the learning experience, promoting individual growth and development. Here are some practical tools and strategies that can pave the way for a more personalised learning environment:

  1. Adaptive learning tools: These are software and online resources that adjust to a learner's performance and abilities in real time. By providing instant feedback, these tools can guide students along personalised learning pathways, ensuring they engage with material best suited to their learning styles and current understanding. Reading Eggs and the associated Math Seeds tools are great examples of software solutions that help teachers differentiate their instruction in reading and maths.
  2. Differentiated teaching strategies: As mentioned above, this involves tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. By grouping students based on their level of understanding or preferred learning style, or even their personal interests, educators can cater to their unique needs, making learning more accessible and enjoyable. This might involve altering the pace of learning, varying the types of activities, or modifying the learning environment. Educational software offers a great way to provide a variety of activities to meet differing abilities and interests without teachers having to design fresh activities for every child.
  3. Personalised learning plans (PLPs): These are customised plans designed to help students achieve specific learning objectives. PLPs outline the learning goals, the steps needed to achieve them, and the resources required. By involving students in the creation of their PLPs, educators can instil a sense of ownership and autonomy, motivating students to take charge of their learning journey. An LMS (learning management system) can make it easy to create, manage, and update PLPs for every student.

Integrating personalised learning strategies into classroom practice

The integration of these tools and strategies into everyday teaching can revolutionise the learning experience for students. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Regular use of adaptive learning tools: Incorporate these tools into your daily teaching routine. For example, you might begin a lesson with an adaptive tool that assesses students' understanding of the previous lesson, using this to shape the day's instruction.
  2. Thoughtful grouping: Regularly reassess your groupings to ensure they remain relevant as students develop. Create a classroom culture that views these fluid groupings as a positive, dynamic part of learning.
  3. Co-creation of PLPs: Involve students in crafting their PLPs. Regularly revisit and revise these plans together, making sure they remain relevant and motivational.

Harnessing learning management systems for differentiated instruction

Integrating technology (such as an LMS or learning management system) into classrooms has become an increasingly popular way of supporting differentiated instruction. LMSs can be used to both track educational metrics (those tailored for teaching in Australia and New Zealand can be used to track the metrics we use in our system) and information about each child's learning preferences, as well as to tailor learning experiences to individual student needs. They allow teachers to deliver customised content and assignments (including via a variety of rich media, such as video and audio), track individual student performance, and provide feedback in real time. And they can even be used to offer students a choice in how they demonstrate their understanding as an alternative to standardised tests. By using an LMS, teachers can facilitate personalised learning even in larger, diverse classrooms.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about LMSs is that good ones, like Canvas, have adaptive learning capabilities, which enable teachers to create custom learning pathways for every one of their students. As students progress through the coursework, the system intelligently adapts to their performance, providing content and challenges appropriate to their current level of understanding. And with the advent of AI, the adaptive capabilities of these systems are only increasing.

It's important to understand that using an LMS isn't required if you're going to transform your classroom into a hub of personalised learning. However, LMSs have transformed how personalised learning is delivered, offering features that enable differentiation and adaptivity at scale. One person can only take education personalisation so far by themselves. But it's almost infinitely scalable with the help of the right technology. Indeed, the use of these platforms is no longer a luxury but an essential component of truly effective and efficient personalised learning strategies for all but the smallest of classrooms.

The implementation of an LMS in the classroom, therefore, can be the difference between a one-size-fits-all education and a tailored, adaptive learning journey. Harnessing this technology can help to realise the full potential of personalised learning, ensuring every student can thrive and excel throughout their educational journey.

Learning personalisation through differentiated instruction becomes incredibly complex if educators are relying on spreadsheets and manually delivering learning materials to each student. A learning management system, however, allows for flexibility, adaptation, and a focus on the individual learner, making education more engaging, relevant, and effective for every student and much easier to deliver for the teacher.

Embracing the future of education: Personalised learning and its impact

As we chart the future of education, it becomes increasingly evident that a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching can no longer meet the diverse needs of students. Personalised learning and differentiated instruction have emerged as powerful tools in navigating this diverse educational landscape. By embracing these strategies, we can create an environment that addresses each student's unique needs and strengths, and truly elevate their learning experience.

Adaptive learning strategies have also shown their potential in aiding this personalised learning revolution. They allow educators to tailor educational content and pace to the individual learner, facilitating a more engaging, effective, and equitable learning experience.

To bring about this transformative change, our educators can leverage the power of learning management systems. Tools like Canvas have features that support the implementation of personalised learning strategies, giving educators the power to design, deliver, and manage personalised learning experiences, at scale.

The journey towards personalised learning may seem daunting, but the potential benefits are too significant to ignore. With the right tools and strategies, we can create a future where every learner is given the opportunity to thrive. It's time for us, the educators, to take the first step into this exciting future and begin implementing personalised learning in our classrooms today. After all, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that every child learns as well as they possibly can.

So, why wait? Let's take the leap and transform our approach to teaching. Embrace personalised learning and watch as it shapes the future of education, and the future of our students.

See How Canvas and Canvas LMS can help pave the way for Personalized Learning

Canvas LMS is a SaaS digital learning hub that connects students, teachers, and tools—whether in the physical, blended, or fully online classroom.

The world is changing faster than ever before. Educational instruction methods used even just two years ago are already outdated, and it’s never been more critical to meet learners where they are at. When it comes to online teaching & learning, there’s no better place than Canvas LMS, the hub of your digital classroom. Reliable, intuitive, and born in the cloud, Canvas LMS is the most widely used learning management system by colleges & universities in North America and the fastest-growing worldwide. Request a Canvas LMS Demo Today!


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