January 26, 2016

William R. Penuel, (303) 492-4541, william.penuel@colorado.edu       
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

Limited evidence and weak generalizability impair personalized learning report, review finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 26, 2016) – A recent report published by the RAND Corporation focused on three school-wide initiatives funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The report concentrated on approaches touted as "personalized learning." However, an academic review of the report finds that the report's relevance to policy and practice is limited.

Dr. William R. Penuel and doctoral candidate Raymond Johnson, University of Colorado Boulder reviewed the report, Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning. The review was produced for the Think Twice think thank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report sought to add to the evidence base by examining the effects of school-wide efforts to promote personalized learning and the links between implementation of particular strategies and outcomes.

The report broadly identified personalized learning as reforms that rely on digital technology, with the following elements included: developing individualized learning goals using data; competency-based progression; flexible use of time, space, and technology; and developing academic and non-academic career and college readiness skills.

Limitations identified by the review include:

  1. A sample of treatment schools unrepresentative of the general population of schools;
  2. The lack of a threshold in the study for what qualified as implementing "personalized learning" in treatment schools; and
  3. That several strategies highlighted were rarely implemented in the studied schools.

Encouragingly, the reviewers state that the report did include high-quality elements. Yet, the conclusions about the efficacy of technology-based personalized learning are not warranted by the research presented. Readers should be skeptical of what promise the report's evidence actually provides for any given model of personalized learning.

The reviewers conclude, "the study lacks utility for judging the value of the more disruptive and digital-technology-based personalized learning."

Find the review on the Great Lakes Center website:

Find the original report on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/