Personalized Learning and Individualized Instruction: Distinctions, Differences and Implications

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This page/section of the HCLE Wiki highlights the historical discussion of how the computing revolution has impacted individualization or personalization from the perspectives of both teacher and learner. We begin with distinctions between these perspectives, then provide examples of the historical conversation as it happened beginning in the 1950s and conclude with implications for twenty first century educational practice.

- What's the difference between teaching and learning?


Once dictionaries get beyond defining teaching as what a teacher does, they usually settle on "transferring a body of knowledge" or "causing students to learn something." This is a pretty tall order. Perhaps a better description of teaching is: providing students with environments that increase the probability that they will be changed in a predetermined direction through the acquisition of various facts, ideas, knowledge and skills. In traditional classrooms this is often done by the teacher standing in the front of a classroom and telling or demonstrating to a group of students what he or she hopes they will assimilate into their minds and bodies. One can also teach by writing books, producing audio and video renditions of the material to be learned, creating interactive software that presents and/or exercises the skills to be mastered. These proactive or didactic methods of teaching are favored in 'modern' or 'developed' societies because they are often effective at speeding up the acquisition of concepts and skills not spontaneously acquired during the process of living in family, community and the surrounding world. In many societies that were once designated as primitive, telling a child he or she was mistaken, wrong or lacking in knowledge was considered a violent act. 'Teaching' in such communities is done by demonstration of skills and through story telling. These children construct their knowledge through mimicry, discovery, trial and error and construction. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches but both are teaching.


Learning is an event that happens within the mind/body complex of an individual and can only be evaluated by observing changes in the individual's external behavior. The concept can be extended to include 'group' or 'organizational' learning evidenced by the behavior of collections of individuals. Learning, as all activities, takes place within a context or environment which is continually stimulating and being acted upon by the learner. This happen whether or not a teacher is present and cannot be controlled by the teacher.

Key Differences:

Teaching is action by the teacher. Learning is change in the learner. The two may be connected by intention but the former does not 'cause' the latter, rather teaching may 'enable' more rapid or efficient learning of target knowledge or skill. Teachers can set up contexts, situations, experiences -- learning environments -- that may stimulate students to acquire the target material but use of physical violence to enforce attendance and attention is rapidly fading from modern teaching practice.

To be continued... (The sections above were written by Liza Loop on 16 March, 2015. Please join the wiki and add, edit, modify this page.)

- Who were the key contributors to the conversation and what did they foresee?

Section 1

Section 2

==- How are children and adults learning today (2015)?

Section 1

Section 2

- Are schools and colleges adapting effectively to changes in learning technologies?

Section 1

Section 2