Personalized Learning as a Strategy to Support Students During COVID-19: Mapping Education and Policy Trends by the Numbers

States grapple with learning during COVID-19, and data indicates a rise of personalized learning elements in state proposals for the federal Rethink K-12 Education Models Grants

Topics: Education Policy

Students around the world are beginning a school year that is like no other. While some learning communities are trying to recreate school as closely to “normal” as possible, despite so many traditional structures having crumbled, others are looking at pre-pandemic innovations and practices to see how they can be adapted anew. Many states and communities are using this unique moment in our history to make innovative choices that will support each learner with a personalized experience, choices that can continue to support teaching and learning into the future.

In April 2020, the U.S. Department of Education announced $180 million for a Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant competition with the goal of helping states respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with adaptable, innovative learning opportunities. Of the 39 states that applied, 22 applications incorporated elements of personalized learning, indicating the growing national interest in personalized and competency-based strategies for addressing learning loss and social and emotional trauma resulting from disruptions to the education system.

While only eleven states were awarded grants, many states are advancing these ideas with other sources of funding, including federal stimulus dollars and philanthropic partnerships.

Education policy and designing systems to support students and learning

In our State Policy Framework for Personalized Learning, we outlined four strategies for system design:

  • Building capacity
  • Empowering student learning
  • Cultivating systems change
  • Ensuring quality

Each of these strategies are necessary to support a policy environment that ensures all students in the state benefit from high-quality personalized learning experiences. Across the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant applications, as states share personalized and competency-based plans, there was strong evidence of all four systems design strategies.

Building capacity

Five states’ applications outlined a plan to build capacity for personalized learning through professional development and expanding out-of-school partnerships.

  • 3 states want to expand partnerships to enable more opportunities for out-of-school learning
  • 2 states want to offer professional development in personalized learning

Empowering student learning

17 states’ applications included a desire to empower student learning through personalized learning, including supports for social-emotional learning, various pathways, whole child supports, individualized learning plans and project-based learning.

  • 11 states want to provide supports for social-emotional learning
  • 7 states want to use various pathways to support students
  • 3 states want to provide supports for the whole child
  • 1 state wants to implement individualized learning plans
  • 1 state wants to implement project-based learning

Cultivating systems change

Six states’ applications set out an intention to cultivate systems change through a systemic approach to personalized learning and/or competency-based learning.

  • 5 states want to expand personalized learning
  • 2 states want to implement competency-based learning

Ensuring quality

Two states’ applications proposed ensuring quality through badges to credential learning and performance assessment.

  • 1 state wants to explore using badges to credential learning
  • 1 state wants to explore performance assessment

To learn more about how states can leverage personalized learning to rethink their education systems in response to COVID-19, check out the KnowledgeWorks state guidance for responding to the learning disruptions caused by the pandemic.