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LEARNING Attainment gain

+ 3 months

Learning benefits

• Develops independence and personal responsibility.

Unexpected finding

• It is harder than it looks to do well!

Teaching tips

• Make sure it is a good use of your pupils’ time. • Count the cost of preparing, managing and monitoring multiple tasks. • Use it in short bursts to keep pupils motivated. • Use it to complement other approaches.

Leadership tips

• Make sure it’s a good use of teachers’ time. • Identify good digital technology solutions that are as self-managing as possible.


• Goldilocks • The Matthew Effect



+1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8

WHAT IS IT? Individualised learning is where pupils are given different tasks and provided with individual support and feedback. It is based on the idea that all learners have different needs and may learn at a different pace from each other. An approach that is personally tailored should be more effective (EEF, 2018f ). Various models of individualised learning have been tried, particularly in subjects like mathematics (Horak, 1981), where pupils can have individual sets of activities to complete. The teacher takes a monitoring role in managing the tasks and in supporting the learner. Digital technologies have been used to provide more individualised activities and feedback through tutorial programmes (Steenbergen-Hu and Cooper, 2013). It is sometimes also called personalised learning, though some argue that for learning to be fully personalised, learners should have some choice about what they learn. Individualised or personalised learning can support other approaches such as a mastery approach (see page 51), where it is used to ensure learners keep up with class progress. It can be a way of applying metacognitive skills or developing 103

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What Works?

greater self-regulation (see page 35) by teaching strategies or techniques that learners apply independently. It is different from an approach such as one-toone tuition (see page 29) in that the focus is on activities that are independent of the teacher. The teacher tends to adopt a less direct approach and monitors progress. Of course, there are some children who need a specific plan or programme of support that is individualised. We are not talking about this here, important though it is. This chapter is about systematic approaches that aim to individualise or tailor lessons for all pupils.

DOES IT WORK? Individualised learning works when learners are motivated and capable (see metacognition and self-regulated learning, page 35) and can develop independence and greater confidence in learning. The tasks and activities need to be at the right level of challenge for the learner to succeed in making progress (not so easy they aren’t learning anything and not so hard they can’t manage on their own). It may not work well until learners have the capability to work on their own (Connor et al., 2013). It can also be time consuming to prepare and manage. Research shows that it works better for older pupils, and in shorter blocks (Boden et al., 2000).

Learning benefits

‘The reality… is that many schools purchase off-theshelf software and call it “personalized learning,” without being able to say what is supposed to change in the classroom. And even when schools do take a broader view, they often fail to recognize that success depends largely on decisions that educators and administrators make on the ground.’ Louis Gomez (in Herold, 2017)

Successful use of the approach can develop more independent and confident learners. Students can see the progress they are making and attribute this to their own efforts (Yeh, 2010).

HOW DOES IT WORK? Approaches to individualisation that use technology suggest two things are important for individualised instruction to be successful. First, the learner needs to be given tasks and feedback (see page 17) at the right level. Second, the pace with which they make progress needs to be greater than they would make in a class setting, with class tasks and class feedback. It is hard to achieve with one teacher and one class. It may be that the teacher’s time is spent less effectively in an individualised classroom. The teacher becomes a manager or coordinator rather than an instructor, who demonstrates, models and provides feedback to 104

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Individualised learning

the class. A high level of challenge may be easier to maintain in a class setting as the teacher can respond to this and adjust with extra support. Too high a level of challenge for 25 pupils all doing different tasks and getting stuck would be impossible to cope with in a lesson. This means pupils tend to be given easier tasks that they can accomplish on their own. This is easier to manage, but it may be too low a level of challenge for learners. To make individualised learning work in your classroom, follow these five steps for successful implementation:

‘Personalized learning’s emphasis on offering different content and paths to each student could open the door for watered-down expectations, greater inequities, and more difficulty holding schools accountable.’ Michael Petrilli (in Herold, 2017)

1. Set clear and specific goals. 2. Make sure the goals are challenging but realistic. 3. Check the goals are understood and accepted by the pupil. 4. Ensure the goals are flexible and regularly adapted to progress. 5. Let pupils monitor their own progress too. 6. Encourage pupils to accept greater challenge.

Principles Principle 1: Goldilocks There are several challenges in getting individualised instruction to work. It can’t take too much time to organise and manage, otherwise you may stop doing other valuable things. The learners need to benefit from working on their own. The level of challenge of the tasks and activities must be set just right for each pupil or their time may be wasted.

Principle 2: The Matthew Effect For individualised instruction to work well, the learners need to be capable of managing their motivation to work on their own and to have a repertoire of skills to tackle challenges when they get stuck. This tends to benefit successful learners who make greater progress. The less motivated and determined learners may get stuck, or work at a slower pace.

Unexpected finding Individualised instruction is harder to manage than it sounds. All teachers want to meet all of their pupils’ needs, but in practice this is more difficult 105

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than it seems. Although the average impact is positive, not all approaches to individualising learning have been successful. The teacher’s role can become more managerial than instructional and it feels like you are trying to spin 25 plates on 25 poles. If you’ve ever watched anyone try to do this, they run frantically from pole to pole giving a tiny amount of time to each, spending most of the time running in between. This may be why approaches that use digital technology can be successful. The tasks and activities are built into the software so you don’t have to spend time developing or selecting them. Often learners get quick feedback from the technology to keep them on track. The teacher can then get information from the technology to identify who might be struggling on different topics and provide some focussed teaching to a group who are stuck.

Teaching tips 9 Focus on efficiency – make sure it’s a good use of your pupils’ time. They

need to be practising and consolidating at an appropriate level. If they are learning new skills or content, they need to have the capability to manage what to do when they get stuck. If they are not motivated and determined, the pace of their work may reduce. If they are practising and consolidating knowledge or skills, check the practice is needed and is effective.

9 Count the cost of preparing, managing and monitoring all of the different tasks and activities for 25–30 pupils as compared with the efficiency of working with the whole class or a group. Make sure it’s a good use of your time!

9 Use individualised learning in short bursts, perhaps as personal challenges with clear targets for personal improvement so learners can see their own progress over a couple of weeks.

9 Use it to complement other approaches. For example, you could have

one group of pupils working on individualised tasks to provide efficient practice and consolidation, supported by digital technology or by a teaching assistant while you teach another target group more intensively.

Leadership tips 9 Focus on efficiency – make sure it is a good use of teachers’ time. Ensure

there is still plenty of time for class and group teaching. It is all too easy for the teacher’s time to be taken up with managerial issues.

9 Identify digital technologies that can help, such as tutorial programs

or software that includes diagnosis and feedback to get the level of challenge right. Practice programs in literacy and mathematics can also be effective. Look out for adaptive technologies.


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Sample pages from What Works - Individualised Learning  

From the authors of the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit comes What Works?, a must-read guide that summarises the research and...

Sample pages from What Works - Individualised Learning  

From the authors of the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit comes What Works?, a must-read guide that summarises the research and...