10 Strategies To Accelerate Educational Achievement Through Individualized Learning

Individualized learning highlights how learning in today’s classrooms isn’t one-size-fits-all. When there are 20+ students in a classroom, there are 20+ starting points, questions, interests, and learning trajectories. Individualized learning is one solution to boosting educational attainment for all students. 

This article explores the concept of individualized learning and makes comparisons between personalized and individualized learning, differentiation, and adaptive teaching. It also suggests 10 strategies for using individualized learning effectively in your math classroom. 

What is Individualized Learning?

Individualized learning is where students set their own learning goals to work on. Students are given the autonomy to guide their personal learning journey and educational experiences. Learners progress through the curriculum at their own pace using resources and methods to suit their learning needs. 

This approach is often used in math because students have varying abilities and the curriculum lends itself to engaging with content in multiple ways. 

For example, in a pre-test review, a student may notice they have mastered one-step equations and are ready for two-step equations. They then set a goal of mastering two-step equations by the next formative assessment and create a plan to learn and practice the skills by then. 

Teachers serve as facilitators by offering a lesson on two-step equations, providing feedback and helping students determine where they are in reaching their goals. 

Evidence-based research on individualized learning

Currently, there is not much educational research on individualized learning. Partly because it is still being defined and tends to be included with other approaches. 

Research on personalized learning strategies indicates that individualized learning: 

  • Is a differentiation method that can be used alongside other methods of differentiation
  • May be more effective with students in middle school and high school who are more able to manage their own learning
  • Should be provided in addition to, not in place of, high-quality teacher-led instruction and interaction to be more effective

More research is needed to fully understand how this approach impacts student achievement. But for now, research shows learning that focuses on meeting a student’s unique needs and adapting instruction to their learning styles, preferences, goals and strengths can support student achievement, especially in math.

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Roles of the teacher and student in individualized learning

Leading an individualized learning classroom takes a specific mindset and focus. Teachers are not leading traditional whole-class lessons and students are not working on the same tasks simultaneously. Teachers must shift their role to that of a facilitator.

Role of the teacher in individualized learning

  • Understand each learner’s profile, including concepts they have mastered and those they are working on, interests, preferences and learning strategies
  • Use various formative and summative assessment methods 
  • Plan individualized instruction for students to master skills 
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice including individualized lessons, online experiences, or small group activities
  • Offer feedback to support students’ learning.
  • Create Individualized Learning Plans or ILPs for each student.

Role of the student in individualized learning

  • Work with the teacher to set goals and contribute to their ILP
  • Apply their learning, skills, decision making and progress monitoring to work towards achieving their goals.
  • Reflect on their progress

What is an Individualized Learning Plan? 

An Individualized Learning Plan or ILP is a document used to guide a student’s learning. 

ILPs guide teaching and learning. They may include the student’s: 

  • Learning profile
  • Goals
  • Learning outcomes
  • Specific needs

Some states, like South Carolina and Washington, require all students to have ILPs after a certain grade level. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Individualized Learning

Like any instructional method, individualized learning of an education program has advantages and disadvantages. 


  • Increased motivation because instruction is aligned to their interests and they are invested in the goals.
  • Engagement may increase as students are working within their zone of proximal development and at their own pace.
  • Academic achievement may improve.
  • Students are active learners.
  • Development of skills such as learning how to learn and time management.


  • It can be difficult to plan and prepare for instruction for all students’ needs in larger classes.
  • A lack of pair or group work may reduce collaboration skills. 

Individualized learning examples

There are many methods to approach individualized learning and teachers can use the methods best suited to their students. 

Here are four effective examples of individualized learning: 

Individualized Instruction 

Individualized instruction for individual students helps focus on the skill they’re working on. 

For example, a student is working on modeling multiplication problems of the five times table. A one-on-one lesson with the student utilizes individualized instruction alongside modeling of multiplication problems and gives immediate feedback. 

Blended learning 

Blended learning combines online and face-to-face teaching strategies to merge the two methods for the benefit of students. 

For example, a teacher records videos explaining key concepts and assigns problems to a student. While the student is working in the classroom, the teacher observes the student completing the practice problems and provides in-person feedback.

Project Based Learning 

Project based learning or PBL customizes curriculum to meet students’ individual needs. Students are given a general task and then work on the relevant objectives, managing their own learning. 

Students are able to work at their own pace, set goals and milestones that allow them to progress towards the over-arching goal.

Microschools and Learning Pods 

MIcroschools or learning pods are small schools with a high level of individualization. They are often led by parents and connected with a network that has a formal structure with teachers. 

Lessons are taught in homes, libraries, or schools. Predominantly one-on-one lessons in microschools provide a high level of individualization.

10 Strategies to individualize learning for your students

These ten best practices will help class teachers get the most out of their students though individualized learning. 

1. Create learner profiles

Use assessment data, students’ interests, preferences, learning modalities and progress to create a learner profile and more engaging learning experiences. Learner profiles can also help students monitor their own progress by helping them identify what they already know and need to learn.

2. Set clear goals

Work with students to create goals that are attainable and meaningful for students using evidence-based data. The more attainable goals are, the more motivated students will be to achieve them, 

One way to set achievable goals is to use a SMART goal format.

SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely

3. Use small groups

Small group instruction helps maximize instructional time while meeting students’ individual needs. 

For example, a small group of students may struggle with adding fractions. It is more effective to provide individualized instruction to a small group of students with the same learning need than one at a time. 

4. Create learning paths

A learning path is the trajectory of learning that a student moves through to master skills and continue learning. Teachers can merge learner profiles with learner paths to create: 

  • Create schedules
  • Design activities
  • Provide student progress updates

5. Set criteria for progressing

When there are clear criteria for progressing through the curriculum, students can visualize how the progression path and gauge when to move to the next skill. 

This helps teachers identify when to step in and support a student who is stuck on a skill.

Progress monitoring sheet for individualized learning

6. Provide assessment options

Just as students should have choices for how they work through tasks, they should also choose how they show what they know. 

Authentic assessments include: 

  • Having the teacher observe the student complete a skill.
  • Writing an essay.
  • Having the student explain their thinking while they perform the skill. 
  • A journal.
  • A portfolio.
  • Self and peer evaluations.

7. Have students set their own schedules

One of the hallmarks of individualized learning is having students set their own pace and manage their learning. 

A good starting point are to-do lists or schedules. Asking students to report on how they are navigating their own plans holds them accountable for their learning.

Student timetable to reflect individualized learning

8. Plan to provide support

Each student will require different levels of support. Some students can progress through a curriculum with the occasional check-in while others will require additional support to gain skills and progress.

 9. Use flexible learning environments

Students need an environment conducive to learning to progress academically. Consider how the physical layout of the class supports individualized learning. 

  • Are students able to move around? 
  • Do they have access to the materials they need? 
  • Is there a way for students to ask for help from a teacher or peer? 
  • Do teachers have room for small group instruction?

 10. Involve parents

Parents must understand how their child is progressing in an individualized learning environment. Don’t be shy about involving parents in creating students’ ILPs or in participating in student-led conferences.

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Technology and Individualized Learning 

Online tools and education technology provide teachers with more strategies to customize instruction with programs that provide learning experiences. These programs adapt to students’ skill levels and provide scaffolding and feedback. 

For example, a student may work on word problems and watch video lessons about problem solving strategies. Then, the student solves various word problems with feedback from the online program about whether their answer was right and how they can solve the problem. 

Third Space Learning provides one-on-one math instruction from highly trained tutors through an online platform. Each student logs in to the Third Space Learning classroom with their own STEM specialist tutor. Ongoing assessment throughout each session means tutors can individualize and adapt learning strategies for each student according to their skill level in real time. 

fourth grade lesson 2 - slide 2

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Individualized vs personalized vs differentiated vs adaptive learning

Often, individualized learning is confused with differentiated learning, personalized learning, and adaptive learning. 

All four teaching methods meet the needs of each student but there are key differences. 

Personalized learning vs differentiation vs individualization vs adaptive teaching

Adapted model From Sheri To You 

Differentiated Learning

While differentiated learning is tailored to meet the needs, preferences, and goals of students, the learning goal for all students is the same. 

Teachers may differentiate instruction, resources and learning processes to meet the needs of each student. 

Individualized Learning

Individualized learning encourages students to work through the curriculum at their own pace and in their own way. Teachers facilitate activities and provide strategies based on student readiness and interests. 

This method focuses on students mastering grade-level content at their own pace and with control over how they move through the content.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is designed to engage students with their interests and is paced according to their needs. 

In a personalized learning environment, teachers adjust a student’s:

  • Goals
  • Curriculum content
  • Learning 

Adaptive learning

Adaptive learning addresses the needs of students through pathways, feedback and resources while keeping the same order of learning. This approach supports students according to their responses using methods such as scaffolding. 

Based on the information that students provide, adaptive learning provides next steps to support students’ progression.

Many online learning platforms are examples of adaptive learning taking information students provide and following up accordingly. 

Maximizing Individualized Learning 

Individualized learning can be a powerful tool for students as they develop their academic skills, executive functioning, planning and self-confidence. 

It also allows students to develop knowledge about themselves as learners and ownership over their educational accomplishments in school. 

Read more: 


What is the meaning of individualized learning?

In individualized learning, students work through material or curriculum at their own rates and in their own way. Teachers are facilitators and provide activities and strategies based on student readiness and interests. The focus is on having students master grade-level content, but at their own pace and with control over how they move through content.

What is an example of individualized learning?

When students are working through a math curriculum at their own pace and rate, that is an example of individualized learning. The student may set goals for mastery (80% on the next test, or learning how to solve problems using improper fractions). Then, they work through various lessons and activities to learn new skills and master them. 

What is the Difference between an individualized learning plan and an Individual Education Plan? 

Predominantly, students with a disability have an Individual Education Plan or IEP that outlines their goals, accommodations, and modifications. 
Students with IEPs are provided with specially designed instruction that meets their individual learning needs. For example, using a visual schedule or manipulatives to gain access to the general education curriculum.
Individualized learning can be applied to any given student. Often, they do not require additional resources or accommodations to access curriculum content. 
Similarities between individualized learning and IEPS: 
Both are developed for individual students with a focus on advancing the student’s learning across a school year or set period
Input is required from the teacher and student
Evidence-based data influences both, including assessments, progress monitoring and knowledge of the student
Differences between individualized learning and IEPS: 
An IEP is a special education document and is an integral part of a special education program whereas individualized learning is a general education tool
IEPs support students who have a disability and ensure that the student can access the general curriculum while individualized learning helps students’ curriculum progression — regardless of diagnosis or disability
Federal and state legislation oversees IEPs in terms of what must be included and how it must be implemented; there is no federal law governing ILPs 

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