In this part of Digest 18 we share international experience in personalised learning, as well as summarise the findings from the research done in Nazarbayev Intellectual schools.  

Part 1. International Experience

The idea of personalised learning as an instructional model has been developing since the mid-1970s (Keefe, 1989). Personalisation is the effort on the part of a school to take into account individual student characteristics and needs and to rely on flexible instructional practices in organizing the learning environment. Thus, instruction is driven largely by the individual student’s needs, interests, and context, and is informed by ongoing conversations with the student and the adults in his or her life (Pane et al., 2017).

To facilitate the appropriate implementation of personalised instruction, Keefe and Jenkins (2000) discussed six basic elements that are as follows:

  • a dual teacher role of coach and advisor;
  • a diagnosis of relevant student learning characteristics;
  • a collegial school culture;
  • an interactive learning environment;
  • a flexible scheduling and pacing; and
  • authentic assessment.

Observing the experience of personalised instruction carried out in schools in the US and Canada, Jenkins and Keefe’s (2002) study evidenced the following positive results:

  • Students take responsibility for their learning and membership in a community.
  • Positive relationships exist between teachers and students, teachers and teachers, and among all students.
  • Adults give students the time to learn, to make mistakes, without interruption.
  • Opportunities abound for students.
  • Constant reflection takes place on content and process.

Courcier (2007) explored teachers’ understanding of personalised learning in English schools and found that due to the ambiguity of the terminology, educators frequently confused it with individual learning. In this regard, it is crucial to distinguish the difference between them. Although they have similar aims – to fulfil an individual student’s needs, interests and potential, and to make students life-long learners, they differ in students’ and/or teachers’ acceptance of responsibilities. In detail, in personalised learning, both teachers and students need to be responsible for their own teaching and learning respectively in order to make outcomes, while individualised learning expects only teachers to direct individual students towards their own goals.

As part of a recent study for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, RAND Corporation researchers have sought to examine how personalised learning is implemented in a sample of 40 US schools with the focus on personalised learning strategies and obstacles to its implementation (Pane et al., 2017). The actions of successful personalised instruction are grouped around four main interdependent strategies:

  • Learner profiles maintain a rich and up-to-date record of student strengths, needs, goals, and progress.
  • Personal learning paths provide appropriate and meaningful choices of material for each student to work on, with the necessary adult supports.
  • Competency-based progression enables these personalised paths to run their natural course by removing external constraints on what material each student works on, when, and for how long.
  • Flexible learning environments enable schools to allocate resources in new ways to best support these processes.

As far as the obstacles to implementing personalised learning are concerned, compared to the national sample, the teachers involved in personalised instruction reported they were less challenged with environmental and operational factors, such as lack of administrator support, the pressure to cover specific material, lack of data, lack of flexibility in curriculum, and scheduling constraints. However, .many schools utilising personalised learning faced difficulty measuring nonachievement outcomes (such as data on student behaviour or socio-emotional skills) and integrating such data with achievement data to set goals and inform instructional decisions and had limited time to develop personalised lessons. They also were challenged to ensure that students complete work at an acceptable pace and organized in groups for the larger performance tasks. Some aspects of flexible scheduling also proved difficult as schools experienced barriers to flexible scheduling at the school level but used time flexibly at the classroom level.


Based on the findings from Pane et al. (2017), the RAND researchers offer the following recommendations for implementers of personalised learning at the district or school level. 

Provide teachers with resources and time to pilot new instructional approaches and gather evidence of how well they work. It is important to ensure that teachers and school leaders have the flexibility, time, and resources to experiment with new instructional approaches, develop a systematic process for collecting and analyzing evidence of their effectiveness, and make changes as needed. 

Provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate on developing curriculum materials and on reviewing and scoring student work. If staff prefer to develop their own curriculum materials, it is important to ensure that they have the flexibility, time, and resources to do so in ways that are minimally intrusive on their teaching duties.  

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. Some technology resources have the potential to enable key personalised learning strategies but integrating technology into instruction can often be challenging for teachers. Thus, teachers should be supported in troubleshooting technology issues as they arise, creating technology-integrated lessons and projects, etc.  

Provide resources and support for school staff to help them choose the most-appropriate digital or nondigital curriculum materials. Ensuring that school staff members have the necessary resources (e.g., time, funding, extra staff) and support (e.g., access to curriculum experts or other means of vetting, adapting, or combining materials) could help ease the burden of curriculum development for teachers, allowing them to focus more time on instruction. 

Provide resources and support for school staff to integrate multiple data systems. Many school data systems in use do not yet integrate academic and behavioural data, shifting the burden of integrating and interpreting those data onto teachers. Providing resources or support could help ease the burden of data entry and integration for teachers, allowing them to focus more time on instruction. 

Part 2. Implementation Experience in Intellectual Schools  

In Intellectual schools, two models of personalised learning are practised: “Accelerated Learning” (Programme of Grades 8-10 is covered within 2 years, hereinafter referred to as Model 1) and “Personal Learning Path” (hereinafter referred to as Model 2).

In spring 2020, the research was conducted in order to study the features of the implementation of personalised training (hereinafter – PL). Qualitative data (focus groups and individual interviews with teachers, students and their parents) was collected in 10 Intellectual schools. The perspectives of 62 teachers, 61 students and 26 parents who participated in interviews and focus groups were studied regarding their understanding of the concept and goals of PL, students’ motivation, teaching, learning and assessment processes. In addition, 10 lessons were observed. Besides, 13 directors and 16 deputy directors for personalized learning from 16 Intellectual Schools participated in the survey, presenting an administrative point of view on the process.

Within the study of the understanding of personalised learning by teachers, students and their parents, some difficulties were revealed in their interpretation of the Personal learning path (Model 2). Also, some cases were identified in which students’ expectations of this model were not met (some children mistook it for Model 1, believing that they would be able to finish school one year earlier by studying with the Personal learning path). In addition, several cases illustrated that students were not fully aware of the choice of the programme they were making. As for Model 1, both students and teachers had a common understanding of the goals of the programme – reducing the schooling time by 1 year due to the accelerated pace of the programme. In contrast, there are discrepancies in the perception of Model 2 rationale. Both students and teachers understood the programme objectives in different ways: some saw the essence of PL in an in-depth studying the selected subjects, learning more complex material, doing extra work; while the others assumed that covering the main core of the subject material in a shorter time would spare students with more time for themselves. In this regard, educators would like to see clearer instructions on PL organisation.

Teachers and students shared their experience in instructing and studying within the PL programme and touched upon such issues as the motivation of the choice of a learning model, various aspects of the educational process (schedule, assessment, impact on academic performance, socialization), etc. As a result, the advantages of the PL programme were explored from different perspectives: children and their parents, teachers and school leadership. Challenges and drawbacks of the programme, as well as risks and solutions, were presented.

As far as the benefits of the PL programme are concerned, 100% of school leaders who took part in the survey concur that students are completely satisfied with their learning experience.

  • Redistribution of time. Most representatives of the school leadership noted that children began to value time as a resource to a bigger extent. Most of the children studying with Model 2 agreed that they had more free time because they master the programme faster. Thus, they had the opportunity to engage in other subjects, hobbies, to relax during the day, which positively affected their well-being.
  • Student character and personality development. Both students and parents noted that the transition to PL raised children’s independence, fostered skills in time management and self-regulation, and increased their sense of responsibility for learning.
  • Student motivation and in-depth subject knowledge. Children’s mindset and their motivation in learning have improved. With the introduction of PL, students with the weak motivation to learn boosted their desire to study, explore things they are passionate about.
  • Flexibility of the programme. Students’ ability to be involved in the process of shaping their personal learning path, taking into account their interests and the pace of learning.
  • Opportunity to engage in research activities. Within PL, students can start developing their project in the chosen subject or devote the spared time to do research upon their interests. Teachers can also engage in research activities, for example, several teachers perceived PL instruction as an opportunity to conduct Action research, to increase their professionalism in differentiated teaching, etc.

Along with the benefits of PL, the participants of the study highlighted certain difficulties of the PL programme.

  • Student load. As for Model 1, students and their parents, as well as teachers, pointed to a large load put on the child: the students’ schedule has become tight, and the load has increased, leaving insufficient time for doing homework, attending extracurricular classes and additional activities.
  • Teacher load. The principals of the Intellectual schools and their deputies, as well as most teachers, emphasized that the teachers’ workload has significantly increased due to additional planning, differentiation, assessment, etc. Besides, some teachers underscored increased psychological stress for their PL students’ academic performance and general achievements.
  • Curriculum. The leadership and teachers of Intellectual schools noted the following challenges in the PL curriculum: mismatch of programmes and an excessive number of learning objectives in some subjects (Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry) and overload of learning objectives within one lesson.

Based on the findings of the study, recommendations are derived aimed at improving personalised learning at Intellectual schools in the next academic year.


Courcier, I. (2007). Teachers’ perceptions of personalised learning. Evaluation & Research in Education, 20(2), 59-80.

Jenkins, J. M.& Keefe, J. W. (2002). Two schools: Two approaches to personalised learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 449-456.

Keefe, J. W. &Jenkins, J. M. (2000). Personalised Instruction: Changing Classroom Practice. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye on education

Keefe, J. W. (1989) Personalised Education. In Walberg H.J. & Lane J.J. (Eds.) Organizing for Learning: Toward the 21st Century. Reston: National Association of Secondary School Principals, pp. 72-81.

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., Hamilton, L. S., & Pane, J. D. (2017). Informing progress: Insights on personalized learning implementation and effects.

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