Leadership ‘key’ to personalized learning success

The Friday Institute's Nancy Mangum told a conference audience that personalized learning needs unified institutional support to thrive.
girls using tablets
(Brad Flickinger / Flickr)

Personalized learning is flourishing in K-12 schools, but needs support from top leadership to succeed, state education leaders told an audience at a national conference this week.

Educators attending the State Education Technology Directors Association conference in Washington D.C. praised personalized learning for its benefits to students while recognizing the importance of administrative support for the model’s durability and scalability. 

Often supported by digital tools and resources, personalized learning approaches have grown more popular in recent years in part due to advances in technology platforms and digital content. However, according to a 2018 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, at the district level, personalized learning often lacks consistent engagement by school leaders and needs to be established as a district priority to succeed.

“The leader is key in helping innovation come to fruition,” Nancy Mangum, associate director of Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative at the The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, told SETDA conference attendees on Tuesday.


Mangum said schools should develop a unifying vision around personalized learning with common commitments and approaches. “It can’t be ‘I want to do this,’ it has to be, ‘we,’” she said.

This position is supported by a 2018 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education that found a successful transition to personalized learning requires buy-in and a common action plan at all levels.

Supplying evidence supporting personalized learning attempts is critical to getting administrator support, Magnum said. “We need data to back up some of the reasons we are doing this,” she said.

Compared to their peers, students in schools using personalized learning practices are making greater academic progress, according to a 2015 Research and Development Corporation study. Even students successful in the traditional classroom model see cross-subject performance improvements when learning is personalized, according to the RAND study.

Although administrative support remains an obstacle for personalized learning, according to SETDA’s Navigating the Digital Shift 2018 study, state policies have begun to support the transformation to a personalized learning plan supplemented with digital materials.


The study identifies the current movement towards digital learning and highlights states that have already taken steps toward implementing digital learning in their classrooms. Six states require the implementation of digital instructional materials and 30 more allow it. Twelve states have dedicated state funding for devices and 29 states define instructional materials as including digital resources, according to SETDA.

In addition to focusing on student learning, SETDA encourages states and districts to provide professional learning opportunities to help teachers excel during the shift to digital learning. Professional development is necessary, according to CRPE, to support innovation and benefits the implementation of personalized learning.

Though funding personalized learning initiatives and managing the data that’s collected after they’re launched are both sizable challenges for districts, leaders like Mangum are calling for changes in the classroom.

Students have different and diverse learning styles, Mangum said. “That’s why we need personalized learning,” she said. “By designing for the average, we are designing for none.”

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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