Personalized learning in K–12 education is at a crossroads. Its big ideas—giving students more freedom and control over their learning, allowing students to move at their own pace, and letting students’ interests and talents drive what they learn—resonate with many parents, students, and educators. Its emphasis on self-direction, agency, and complex reasoning aligns with a society and economy that increasingly rewards creativity, problem solving, and adaptability.
Although the big ideas of personalized learning draw from long-standing themes associated with progressive education, personalized learning in its current form is still a relatively new phenomenon. As Kevin Bushweller explained in a recent Education Week special report, “Opinions about what it [personalization] should, or should not, look like vary widely” in the field. RAND Corporation researcher John Pane said in the same report that the ideas behind personalization seem intuitive, but “the evidence base is very weak at this point.” Meanwhile, advocates of personalization believe in its promise but are also unsure how to best move beyond a few isolated exemplars to spread personalization to more students and schools.