Personalized Learning: Using Technology as a Tool

Technology is everywhere. It is where you store your photos, recipes, and directions. For some, it is how you manage your calendar, organize your contacts, control your DVR, and pay your bills. For others, it means using online music streaming to find that new up-and-coming artist or pick your Friday night movie from Netflix’s top ten recommendations. We couldn’t imagine life without it, yet sometimes, it is hard to truly grasp its possibilities.

Educators across the state are incorporating technology into new aspects of their instruction, using technology as a tool to drive individual student learning. It is called personalized learning, and it extends beyond using the internet for research projects or homework. Personalized learning looks different in every classroom, but at the core, it allows students to move at a pace comfortable for them within a regular classroom. The department’s director of personalized learning, Brett Turner, talks about what personalized learning can look like in the classroom and how more teachers can use technology as a tool for instruction.

But before you read on, take a moment to weigh in. The state department is looking for feedback from parents, teachers, and school administrators in the annual SpeakUp! survey. What technology techniques work for you and your students? What would you like to see more of? The results of the survey will help the Tennessee Department of Education make decisions about how to best support personalized learning across the state.

-The Communications Team

By Brett Turner, Director Of Personalized Learning

What is personalized learning?

Personalized learning means different things to different people. It means embracing the belief that learning happens any time, anywhere, and any place. Once we believe in that idea, we can start to unthink the traditional model and build classrooms and schools that empower students to own their learning by tailoring the pace of instruction to their needs, altering the approach based on their learning styles, and building an environment that encourages learning to take place both within and outside of school walls.

What does personalized learning mean for students and teachers?

For teachers, it allows them to work one-on-one with students without losing sight of the needs of the classroom as a whole. Teachers are able to incorporate multiple styles of instruction more seamlessly, transforming their role from deliverer of instruction to facilitators of student learning. In addition, teachers can connect with peers in order to collaborate and improve their practice.

For students, they are able to clearly understand and track their progress and communicate with teachers outside the classroom. This ensures students can quickly address potential problems early on.

These collective efforts not only enhance student academic achievement, but they also help to turn teachers into true instructional leaders.

How does technology fit into personalized learning?

Technology is a critical component behind personalized learning, providing students, teachers, families, and others opportunities previously thought impossible. This includes providing access to high-quality, student-specific content that is appropriate to their unique learning needs, facilitating collaboration among students and teachers in innovative ways, and giving teachers more flexibility, through detailed information on each student, on how they spend their time working with kids.

In this environment, technology helps facilitate personalized educational experiences as students become more engaged with the material and challenged academically. It also provides the benefit of exposing them to the technology skills they will need in college and the workforce. However, all of this won’t happen on it’s own. It requires an investment in not only the technology itself, but the supports, such as professional development for teachers, to ensure that everyone is adequately prepared to utilize it in ways that help student learn.

How do student needs drive personalized learning?

Personalized learning is a student-centered effort, so it will look different in each school. Some strategies may include changing the physical learning environment of the classroom to allow for small group instruction, encouraging students to use online portals to connect with their peers and teachers beyond school hours, and/or using online digital content to enhance learning in the classroom during the school day.

Personalized learning also encompasses a variety of initiatives underway throughout the state. These include blended learning, where you combine in-person instruction with computer-mediated instruction, one-to-one or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives to encourage more use of technology within schools, or project-based learning initiatives to provide students opportunities to investigate

How can I find out more information about personalized learning?

The Tennessee Department of Education is about to start a collaborative planning process that helps us determine how we can best support districts, schools and teachers make this transition and are very interested in hearing how students, teachers, building leadership, central office staff, and parents think about the role of technology in their classroom. We encourage you to participate in the annual Speak Up! survey. Or, please feel free to e-mail questions to