K-12 schools say Personalized Learning is #1 priority

New technologies are enabling educators to tailor instruction to students' individual learning preferences - which means new business opportunities in K-12 and higher education.

This year K-12 school districts will spend approximately $10.2B on technology - much of it on personalized learning, which is their #1 priority, according to the Center for Digital Education's (CDE) 2015 Digital School Districts Survey.

CDE Survey Results

Source: CDE 2015 Digital School Districts Survey; 2015 Digital Community Colleges Survey


Dr. Kecia Ray, executive director for the Center for Digital Education, and Joseph Morris, director of market intelligence, recently shared some key findings from CDE's August 2015 survey on personalized learning with private-sector partners.

As you would guess, technology is at the heart of personalized learning.

"We know that in order to have personalized learning, the technology has to be present," said Dr. Ray. "There has been research for many years now that says if you engage students with technology and students become active learners, then they will increase academic achievement. So you'll always see that correlation between technology equals student engagement equals student achievement."

But educators need help finding the right personalized learning solutions . Industry generally has valuable solutions for both K-12 and higher education, but education leaders often don't know how to incorporate personalized learning solutions into their overall plan.

Dr. Ray suggests that when working with educators as an industry partner, try and understand what school districts and colleges are trying to achieve with personalized learning. It's crucial when you are working with school district and higher education executives to ask leading questions so you understand their definitions and the different aspects of personalized learning. That way you can see where your company's solutions may plug in. What's especially helpful is if you can share with educators who are working on drafting personalized learning plans how other districts or institutions are approaching the same task. Case studies are an extremely valuable tool to help show your solution in action.

Top 3 Personalized Learning Goals

The CDE survey also revealed that increased student engagement is the top personalized learning goal for education leaders in both K-12 and higher education.


  1. Increased Student Engagement
  2. Greater Student Retention
  3. Improved Student Attendance

Higher Education

  1. Increased Student Engagement
  2. Greater Student Retention
  3. Increased Graduation Rates

Source: CDE Personalized Learning Survey, August 2015

Not surprisingly, the survey found that a lot of educators are confused about the different personalized learning terms and what methods are used for adapting instruction to the needs and abilities of individual students. K-20 staff and faculty were asked whether they believed that their fellow staff and educators understood what "personalized learning" meant. More than half of the K-20 staff and faculty CDE surveyed said they were not confident that other educators fully understand all of the different personalized learning terms.

Survey on meaning of Personalized Learning

Source: CDE Personalized Learning Survey, August 2015

To help you and your team clarify these definitions, we've compiled a list of some of the most common personalized learning terms. Download it here.

K-12 Personalized Learning Methods

Every K-12 respondent to our August survey said they are currently using at least one of these models or methods to achieve a personalized learning environment:

Personalized Learning Methods

Source: CDE Personalized Learning Survey, August 2015

Dr. Ray said she thinks competency-based learning, adaptive learning and blended learning will soon move up the ranks.

"I think we're going to see that in order for the assessment to yield the results that we're looking for, you're going to have to have competency, blended and adaptive learning incorporated into a strategy," she said. "I also think the overall learning environment is going to have to shift, which is the physical learning environment, be it online, physical - whatever - beyond the instructional methodologies. I think we're going to have to think bigger than that to really see the results we want to see."

Higher Education Personalized Learning Methods

On the higher education side, 11% of our survey respondents indicated that they weren't engaged in personalized learning and they also seem to have less widespread use of the models in comparison to K-12. Here's what higher education leaders told us they are using to achieve a personalized learning environment:

HED Personalized Learning Models

Source: CDE Personalized Learning Survey, August 2015

"What's interesting about higher ed is in some states, for example in Tennessee, universities don't get reimbursed," said Dr. Ray. "They don't get their money until they graduate students from the programs. So the top three or four things are there because they have to be there. You have to find ways to help get students through these courses successfully. Adaptive, as I said for K-12, is one of the most beneficial tools for students because they don't have to re-learn anything they've already learned. They start with where they are then move forward."

"Higher ed students appreciate that greatly," said Dr. Ray, "and so they're a lot more engaged because they're only addressing what they don't know."

"The mentoring hours are also important," added Dr. Ray, "especially virtual mentoring hours."

"Everybody's busy, kids between the ages of 18 and 23 are incredibly busy . . . the opportunity to have flexible mentoring and online mentoring is invaluable to our higher ed students."

Coming in December!

For more insights on this important topic, look for CDE's Personalized Learning Special Report which will be released in early December.

2016 Special Reports

Education Meets the Cloud – Q1/Q2 2016

Charting the Course to Digital Transformation – Q3/Q4 2016

Sponsor interviews for our 2016 reports are going on now and our education experts are looking for input from companies with solutions for educators' cloud and digital transformation challenges. Learn more about our 2016 Special Report topics and sponsor interviews here.

The Center for Digital Education presented these findings and more data from our K-20 research on personalized learning in a webinar on September 17, 2015. We invite you to review the recorded webinar here or take a look at the slide deck .