The Path to Personalization: Online Learning and FIP Working Together

Did you know that….

  • K-12 online learning enrollments have been growing 30% annually.
  • As of 2010, there are 1.8 million K-12 online learning enrollments in the US. 
  • 82% of school districts have one or more students in a fully-online or blended course.
  • 75% of districts use online learning to offer Advanced Placement or college-level courses.
  • 40% of public school districts in America today say they need online learning resources because certified teachers are not available for traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • More than 50% of these districts need online learning to reduce student scheduling conflicts to graduate on time.
  • 60% of school districts say they need online learning for credit recovery.
    (Powell, 2013)

Sometimes the rate of change that is made possible through technology amazes me. I discovered these facts when I attended and participated in the Ohio Confederation of Teacher Educators Organizations (OCTEO) conference this spring. The theme of the conference was e-education. Accordingly, presenters addressed the needs of an increasingly large number of teachers to provide effective instruction through online learning in synchronous and asynchronous ways (together and independently). The keynote presenter, Allison Powell, Vice President, State and District Services/New Learning Models International Association for K-12 Online Learning, iNACOL provided the data above for a global and national perspective about the rise of online learning and its role in providing personalizing learning opportunities for students.

Allison captured my interest because she clarified a couple of nagging questions that have been on my mind for some time:

  • What exactly do we mean when we talk about ‘personalized’ learning?
  • How are the tenets of formative instructional practice (FIP) applicable to teachers and students who work and learn in this way?

Personalized Learning
Personalized learning can be defined as the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum, and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners. The vision for personalized learning is that:

  • Students have personal learning paths. Each student has learning goals & objectives. Learning experiences are diverse and matched to the individual needs of students.
  •  Learner profiles capture individual skills, gaps, strengths, weaknesses, interests & aspirations of each student.
  • Multiple instructional delivery approaches continuously optimize available resources in support of student learning.
  • Teachers continually assess student progress against clearly defined standards & goals. Students advance based on demonstrated mastery.

A similar vision has always been the aim of competency-based or standards-based instruction, which is driven by the expectation that students can meet or exceed standards when instruction, pacing, and delivery modes are variable to their needs. Perhaps, now with the advent of sophisticated online learning technologies, the promise of competency-based learning can be more fully realized. Certainly, the shift to using blended learning instructional models can begin to incorporate the essential elements for personalized learning by providing a roadmap for student-centric learning.

How Formative Instructional Practices Are Needed For Online Learning
I can see how technology plays an important role in achieving personalized learning. However, technology is not enough. The opportunities to learn still require high-quality, standards-driven instruction rich in feedback and guided by the collection and documentation of evidence of student learning; in other words, Formative Instructional Practices (FIP). I turned to The National Education Association (NEA) that has published a Guide to Teaching Online Courses to check out their recommended standards for teacher preparation and practice relative to online learning. The set of skills they delineate to be a successful online teacher re-affirmed what I had suspected: regardless of the format used—online, face-to-face, or blended — formative instructional practices are a key skill set needed to achieve personalization. What do I mean by this? When I reviewed the fifteen recommended skills—which include the technical aspects related to the use of learning management systems—I found four guidelines that specifically require that teachers have skills in formative instructional practices. Here you can see how formative instructional practices are needed for online teaching and learning.

National Education Association (NEA) Guide to Teaching Online Courses

National Education Association (NEA) Guide to Teaching Online Courses

Teaching and learning are contingent on how we design our instruction, assessment and feedback—and how we cultivate ownership of the learning to our students. Ultimately, when students own their learning by becoming self-reliant, and become resources to themselves and others, personalization can be more fully realized.

Let’s take advantage of the flexibility that technology has provided. Let’s offer our teachers new ways to teach and new ways for students to learn using more high-quality blended learning opportunities. But let us not forget that the fundamentals of teaching and learning still apply—and that FIP is here to stay!


Powell, A. (2013). Keynote Presentation. iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.