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Personalized Learning: Tailoring Lessons for Every Learning Style

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) truly supports personalized learning

by Martin McKay

Personalized learning has been a much-discussed topic in education for the last few years. The term is everywhere. And it’s very persuasive. It hopes to address learner variability and to make education more accessible for different learners. But, there’s nothing new about personalized learning, either as an aspiration or a practice. It’s an approach that’s as old as the hills.  

Understanding Universal Design for Learning

Over the last couple of years, it has become well recognized by US educators that Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the perfect pedagogical approach that truly supports the idea of personalized learning.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.”


You can determine each learner’s needs by using the principles of UDL to understand their strengths, challenges, aptitudes, interests, talents, and aspirations. UDL has often been connected to special educational needs, but it is a framework that applies to ALL learners who have variability in their learning. UDL helps teachers understand all the learners in their classroom.  Every student brings something different and has different strengths.

New Tools for Variability

As UDL tells us, when we are designing for student variability, it is important to provide students with a few ways to demonstrate their knowledge and keep the lesson or content interesting for everyone.  New technologies have revolutionized how students learn and allow for that multiple means of expression. Portable, personal laptops like Chromebooks or Surface Pros with stylus and touch interfaces, great computing power, and cloud connectivity make it possible to tailor learning to personal interests and needs, even allowing for 1:1 initiatives where each student has their own device to support their learning.

In the past few years, students can now turn in homework that includes photos, video, audio, animations, interactive graphics, smart maps, and presentations.  

Having and using technology in teaching and learning isn’t enough though. Making the most of technology requires a methodical and principled approach, one that turns the aspirations of personalized learning into an effective practice of personalized learning. Universal Design for Learning makes that practice possible.

Strategies to Address Learner Variability

Providing the tools, diverse activities and scaffolded content to meet each learner’s unique needs can feel daunting. It’s important to start small with one new practice or strategy and then build on that. There are a number of tools that teachers can explore that can help to address learner variability. Here are just a couple of examples:

  • Collaborate – Some days we work better together.  Get students to work together on Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint.  Maybe one works on content, and one on design if that is where their strengths lie.
  • Sketchnoting – Some students can adopt visual note-taking to support information recall and build understanding.  The new stylus and touch devices are great for this.
  • Overcoming Shyness – Use the comments stream inside Google Docs or Word to converse with shy students privately.
  • Audio recording – Kids can practice and demonstrate oral reading fluency by attaching an audio recording to a turned in homework.  
  • Text-to-Speech -Some students may feel more comfortable hearing passages of text read aloud

Meeting Students Where They Are

Personalizing instruction and the use of technology in the classroom does not mean there is less of a place for teacher-led instruction. It also doesn’t mean that teachers need to spend endless time after school each day creating an individualized lesson for each and every student in the class. It’s all about meeting students in the spaces where they are and helping them grow by providing diverse ways for them to engage in learning, process content, and show their understanding.

Every child’s different, with their own star qualities, strengths, challenges and learning styles.  Their needs are vast, and there are a multitude of ways teachers can meet those needs effectively in class as well as for independent study and learning at home.

Want to Learn More?

Listen to Martin McKay CTO and founder of Texthelp along with special guest Kathleen McClaskey, founder of Make Learning Personal; co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC; co-author of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning in a pre-recorded session on How to Personalize Learning and Maximize Achievement for All Students.

Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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