Blended Confusion: Personalized vs. Differentiated

The end of the school year has flooded my inbox and social media with inspiring stories, exciting graduation updates, and plenty of education related readings. While I love those stories, I am becoming increasingly more frustrated with the educational resources coming my way. More and more I am noticing that the stories in those readings – ASCD SmartBrief, Education Week, EdSurge, etc. – are mentioning blended learning, which is good, but their misuse of terminology is making an already blurry concept blurrier.

Titles like these are popping up everywhere
Titles like these are popping up everywhere

I am glad to see more and more districts rethinking how to integrate technology into their classrooms and curriculum. However, the rise of another buzz word as a method of blended learning – in this case ‘personalization’ – has me a bit befuddled.  Here is the confusion: why are educational resources misusing personalized learning as a substitute for differentiated? How is this helping the blended community clarify their message and methods? How is the public understanding these differences and making informed decisions about what they would like for their students?

To me, the confusion just increases without the educational community being more intentional about their word choice and the programs they are referring to. So what is the difference? When determining what type of blended program to use or describing the program already in place, what is the correct terminology?

I LOVE this resource by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey as a way to help understand blending learning programs.

What is the difference between personalized, differentiated, and individualized learning?
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Think about what you need from a blended program. What are your goals? What will accommodate your master schedule? Do you want to be more mastery based or do you need more summative data? What role will the teacher play? What role will the technology play? How will students demonstrating their learning? I think this chart does a great job of showing just how many differences there are between these three terms and can help you select the appropriate type of program for your blended learning needs and then communicate effectively about your program to your stakeholders.

After all, if we are going to help our stakeholders understand what we are offering and how it is different from current educational environments, then we need to be clear on what we, as the blended educational community mean.