How Technology Can Help Personalized Learning Without Losing the Teacher-Student Connection

Savvas Insights Team

Many educators understand that personalized learning can help get each individual student the tailored support they need. But when teachers have as many as 25 students or more in a class, how can they be expected to focus their time on innovative instructional strategies and meet state standards, all while trying to identify and remedy any gaps in skills that students missed along the way?

“There’s a pressure on teachers to be this superhuman who needs to know every student in their class while also being able to create individualized lessons. It’s not realistic. Nor should it be the goal,” said Nathan Lang-Raad, Ph.D., vice president of strategy for Savvas Learning Company. “A teacher’s role should be to connect with their students in meaningful ways, to understand what excites and interests them. We can lean on technology to do the things that are almost impossible for teachers to do.”

teacher discussing lesson with students

Educational technology and digital tools can help educators provide students with instruction designed just for them, while freeing up valuable time for the teacher to focus on designing engaging instruction for the whole class. Digital screeners and diagnostic assessments, for example, can provide educators with quick, valuable data and lesson recommendations tailored to each student. Meanwhile, adaptive technology can identify a student’s learning needs and offer the exact instruction and practice they need at the very moment they need it.

“A teacher’s job is to ask students questions, to challenge them to be skeptical and channel their curiosity. Technology can’t do that,” said Nathan, who is an author, speaker, and educator. “But technology can help with assessing where students are and identifying those gaps to give them a path to where they need to be.”

What Is Personalized Learning?

There are many definitions of personalized learning and ways to apply it. For this article, we’re defining personalized learning as a way to meet students where they are, and then provide them with a learning path that’s designed just for them to meet their unique needs.

“Personalized learning is about ensuring that students have support along a pathway to success,” said Nathan. “And every student is going to arrive at their destination in a different way. What makes that difficult is that our classrooms today are set up around a whole-group centered approach with some small-group instruction.”

“A teacher’s role should be to connect with their students in meaningful ways, to understand what excites and interests them. We can lean on technology to do the things that are almost impossible for teachers to do.”

While personalized learning is a simple concept, it’s not always so easy to put into practice. Every grade and classroom has standards they have to meet and it’s the educator’s job to help each student be successful in meeting those standards. But not every student is bringing the same set of skills to the classroom. Some need more help with reading and writing, and some may need remediation in math. And some students might be exceeding proficiency and need more rigorous instruction.

“Teachers are moving all the students in the same direction toward the same goal at the same time to meet the same standards,” he said. “But each student in the classroom will take a different path to get there depending on many different variables.”

The right technology can help free a teacher’s time to provide instruction for the whole class while also identifying and adapting lessons to meet the needs of the individual students — without taking away from that valuable in-person instruction.

Use Technology that Provides Data-Informed Recommendations

One of the best tools a teacher can have to identify their students’ areas of need is data. But teachers can’t always wait for the two or three times a year when lengthy, formal assessments are given to determine which reading skill a student needs to practice more of. Nor do they have time to wait for standardized test results to find out why their student is struggling with their math facts. But it’s also difficult to find the time in daily instruction to gather individualized student data as well. Digital screeners and diagnostic assessment tools can help.

“Let’s say you have a seventh-grade class focusing on a pre-algebra concept. But something is holding one student back from mastering the standard of pre-algebra,” Nathan said. “A screener or diagnostic assessment would identify whether or not there is a gap, and if so, which skill the student is missing. And if a gap does exist, that’s where technology could come in and help that student master that skill.”

teacher working individually with student

Screeners and diagnostic assessment tools are an easy, fast, and seamless way to assess learning needs and differentiate instruction for every student in the classroom. They help teachers identify each student’s greatest opportunities for growth by pairing actionable data and targeted recommendations with significant personalized instructional content and resources. This enables students to master the skills they need to reach standards.

“Really good, valid data from high-quality assessments are crucial to ensuring that we’re diagnosing areas of need early, and also applying the right intervention or extension to students,” said Nathan.

Use Technology that Provides Engaging Adaptive Practice

Educational technology that uses adaptive practice is a great way for educators to take comfort knowing students are getting the targeted lessons and practice they need while the teacher is free to focus on designing effective instruction for the whole class.

“Technology can show us the data about how the student is understanding the lesson and deliver a targeted task that would help bridge the gap,” said Nathan. “This will open up time for teachers to connect to their students in meaningful ways.”

a young boy using a laptop in a classroom

This innovative adaptive technology is designed to track student proficiency against a set of skills and adjusts in real time, offering specific problems and activities based on how that student performs. It acts almost like a tutor, providing instruction and videos when an error is made, delivering an individualized pathway to success for each student.

“It takes the guesswork out of finding the gaps,” said Nathan.

Use Technology to Engage Students Through Choice

Teaching resources that partner technology with interesting, high-quality content can make learning engaging for students. However, it’s important to provide students the opportunity to have ownership in what they want to learn about and how they choose to present their ideas. This can make learning even more meaningful.

“When we talk about student choice, it’s not just about allowing them to choose to work on a poster, a video clip, or a powerpoint presentation. It’s also about giving students the opportunities to pursue passion projects where they’re researching something that truly interests them, and then give them the choice about how to present their findings.”

Look for resources that use an interactive learning model with a wealth of hands-on and virtual activities, such as videos, animations, simulations, and more so that there’s something to capture every student’s interests. Make sure there are embedded teaching strategies that are designed to pique students’ interest and inspire learning by incorporating multimedia resources that are relevant to their lives, such as music or videos, to help connect students to their learning.

“Technology can show us the data about how the student is understanding the lesson and deliver a targeted task that would help bridge the gap.This will open up time for teachers to connect to their students in meaningful ways.”

Many educators believe that our public education system wasn’t designed for personalized learning. It’s designed to move all students forward to the same goals and standards at the same time. But every student’s path to get to those goals is different. One might be a straight line, while another could zig and zag with many stops along the way. But with help from technology, we can do our best to give students the instruction they need for their own personal growth.

“Personalized learning doesn't need to be reserved for just the students who have gaps. All learners have the ability to grow and to learn,” Nathan emphasized. “While personalized learning is one of the best strategies for helping students get caught up, it should be best practice for all students.”


About The Author

Nathan Lang-Raad

Dr. Nathan D. Lang-Raad is an educator, speaker, author, and Vice President of Strategy at Savvas Learning Company. Throughout his career, he has served as a teacher, elementary administrator, high school administrator, and university adjunct professor. He has also worked at NASA. He is the author of Everyday Instructional Coaching, The New Art and Science of Teaching Mathematics co-authored with Dr. Robert Marzano, WeVideo Every Day, Mathematics Unit Planning in a PLC at Work, and The Teachers of Oz, The Boundless Classroom, and Instructional Coaching Connection.