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Teacher and Student Survey Results


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Research Questions

  1. What does PL look like in a small sample of schools that have been implementing PL approaches schoolwide?
  2. How do the approaches to personalization in these schools compare to a national sample that represents more-typical practice in the United States?
  3. What are the obstacles to PL implementation?
  4. How does PL implementation differ between charter schools and traditional district schools in the sample, and what factors seem to support or hinder implementation?
  5. How does achievement growth for students in these schools differ from growth for similar students in other schools?

The basic concept of personalized learning (PL) — instruction that is focused on meeting students' individual learning needs while incorporating their interests and preferences — has been a longstanding practice in U.S. K–12 education. Options for personalization have increased as personal computing devices have become increasingly affordable and available in schools and developers created software to support individual student learning. In recent years, it has become more common for schools to embrace schoolwide models of PL.

We collected data from schools in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)'s Breakthrough School Models program. Our study seeks to describe the practices and strategies these schools used to implement PL, understand some of the challenges and facilitators, and consider these alongside achievement findings to discern patterns that may be informative.

Teachers and students reported higher levels of many aspects of personalization than their counterparts in a national sample. These included time for one-on-one tailored support for learning; using up-to-date information on student progress to personalize instruction and group students; students tracking their own progress; competency-based practices; and flexible use of staff, space, and time. However, some more-difficult-to-implement aspects did not appear to differ from practices in schools nationally, such as student discussions with teachers on progress and goals; keeping up-to-date documentation of student strengths, weaknesses, and goals; and student choice of topics and materials.

We estimate study students gained about 3 percentile points in mathematics relative to a comparison group of similar students. In reading, there was a similar trend, though it was not statistically significant. Low-performing and high-performing students appeared to benefit.

Key Findings

Lessons from the Implementation of Personalized Learning

  • Schools in the NGLC sample were pursuing a wide variety of practices to focus on the learning needs of each individual student in a supportive and flexible way.
  • Schools were implementing specific PL approaches to varying degrees, with none of the schools looking as radically different from traditional schools as theory might predict.
  • There is suggestive evidence that greater implementation of PL practices may be related to more-positive effects on achievement; however, this finding requires confirmation through further research.


For State and District Policymakers:

  • Incorporate flexibility into policies related to course progressions.
  • Allow school staff to have some autonomy to design school schedules that support PL.
  • Enable schools to hire staffs that are the best fit for the school.
  • Ensure that accountability policies value growth and other metrics of student success.
  • Revise grading policies to incorporate competency-based approaches, and clearly communicate these approaches to students, families, employers, and postsecondary education institutions.
  • Look to early adopters of PL for examples of large-scale policy change.

For Implementers at the District and School Levels:

  • Provide teachers with the resources and time to pilot new instructional approaches and gather evidence of how well they work.
  • Provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate on developing curriculum and on reviewing and scoring student work.
  • Identify a school staff member (or two) who is comfortable with technology and has curriculum expertise to serve as a just-in-time resource for teachers.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to help them choose the most-appropriate digital or nondigital curriculum materials.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to integrate multiple data systems.

For Funders:

  • Direct funding to technology developers who will work with teachers and curriculum experts to design technology-based curriculum materials and data systems that will support PL practices.
  • Allocate funding for research that includes stronger experimental designs and that systematically tests specific PL strategies.

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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