Defining Personalized Learning
Throughout our process, it was always clear that identifying meaningful professional learning wasn’t
simply about comparing one PD opportunity to another. Rather, we learned that intention matters and
that there are clearly conditions that always exist when high quality professional learning happens.
In their 2000 discussion about self-determination theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan state that
“Perhaps no single phenomenon reflects the positive potential of human nature as much as intrinsic
motivation, the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s
capacities to explore and to learn” (2000, p. 70). Deci and Ryan go further, indicating that intrinsic
motivation “is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders
commitment, effort, and high-quality performance” (2000, p. 76).
In Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Scott Kaufman describes the essential conditions that foster intrinsic
Autonomy - being in control of one’s own decisions
Competence - expertise, mastery, and accomplishment
Relatedness to Others - sense of connection with peers
(2013, p. 101).
As such, personalized learning can be defined as intrinsically motivated learning facilitated by the
essential conditions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to others, and this is what we should
strive for in our vision of professional growth and learning for the future.
Our task force’s research on personalization is deeply connected to the condition of autonomy. Equally
important, though, is the condition that it is related to others. This was our impetus to research the
significance of collaboration in professional growth and learning.
Educators know that collaboration is one of the most important skills that they can help students to
develop. It is a 21st Century Skill, an acknowledged life skill, and it affords students the opportunity to
learn with peers and from peers, while cementing knowledge that has been acquired. These
characteristics of collaboration don’t only apply to our students, but to all learners. According to Zepeda,
effective professional development “is collaborative, providing opportunities for teachers to interact
with peers.” Indeed, “teachers benefit from being in collaborative communities in which they conduct
research and work together on issues of instruction, and where they can receive mentoring and peer
coaching” (Zepeda, 2003, p. 134). In Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work: New Insights
for Improving Schools, DuFour et al, identify six basic characteristics that define the professional learning
community (2009). Those characteristics are:
Shared mission, visions, values, and goals focused on student learning
A collaborative culture focused on learning
Collective inquiry into best practice and current reality
Commitment to continuous improvement