Skip to content
Aurora Institute

iNACOL Research intern Janice Silver guest blogs about personalization

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Janice Silver

Issues: State Policy

iNACOL Research Intern Janice Silver is guest blogging today about her brief literature review on personalization.

Personalization in online learning – a brief lit review
By Janice Silver, iNACOL Research Intern

When researching various articles on personalization, it became evident that there are many beliefs as to how personalization should be defined and used in an online setting. There was rich discussion about how personalization affects graduation/school dropout rates, the significant role that personalization plays in pedagogy in virtual environments, and best practices for implementing personalization into online classrooms.

The “P” in Pedagogy

Personalization was described as playing a major role in the pedagogy of virtual environments. When the authors defined or described their philosophy of personalization, the term “learner-centered” education was referenced often and they agreed that personalization was not a new concept to the field. However, research points to an increasing shift towards personalization in e-learning environments that in turn, redefines the role of the teacher (Ruiz, et al., 2006). This trend continues into higher education institutions engaging in online learning. When surveyed, college educated students preferred the use of personalization because it provided an opportunity for them to express uniqueness, gave them control of their learning environment, and allowed them to influence others (Snibb & Markus, 2005). Alsop & Watts (2003) inform readers that when identity, self-esteem, and confidence are woven into pedagogical practices, learners become eager to learn.

Mayer (2003) describes the term “personalization effect” as a time when students are able to learn more deeply from a multimedia explanation presented informally. An online environment not only lends itself to the above setting, but it can serve as a vehicle for change in educators that are willing to embrace the type of instruction needed to achieve personalization. In personalization, the instructor’s role is a facilitator who stimulates, guides, and challenges students via freedom and responsibility, rather than just focusing on the delivery of instruction (Eom, et al., 2006). This was made evident when analyzing the role of personalization when engaging students in inquiry based learning, seen most often in a science classroom. Researchers concluded that when personalization was coupled with Multiple Intelligence theory, educators were able to evoke positive reactions from students about learning (Goodnough, 2011). As the options for Web 2.0 applications expand, the easier it becomes to employ personalization in e learning. McLoughlin & Lee (2008) envision Pedagogy 2.0 as a place where learners have the freedom to decide how to engage in personally meaningful learning achieved by problem-based and inquiry-based learning.

Practice Makes Permanent

The research provided many examples of personalization best practices and revealed that many of these examples had lasting, positive effects on the students involved. When personalization was employed in reading classes for grades 3 -5, the amount that students read for enjoyment increased, thus increasing their reading achievement (Cox & Guthrie, 2001). Similar findings held true when adaptive web-based educational systems were used with adolescents. Another common best practice for achieving personalization with adolescents was the use of blogs. Huffaker (2004) stated that blogs were ideal for achieving personalization because of their flexibility and scalability, which provides a foundation for self–expression and creativity that effective online communities are built upon.

Pluses and Deltas

In conclusion, the bulk of the research discussed the best practices for implementing personalization in an online setting, the positive effect that it has on students, and how there must be a pedagogical shift. To execute personalization, the educator must become more of a facilitator of learning versus a distributor of content (Ruiz, et al., 2006, Fauske & Wade, 2004, Goodnough, 2011, McLoughlin & Lee, 2008). Research shows that students participating in personalization on a regular basis have improved graduation and employment outcomes (Benz, et al., 2000 & Mayer, 2003). There was an abundance of best practices for science and language arts content, but mathematics and health content were significantly lacking. When examining technologies to support and assist educators with personalization there was a reoccurring theme of the high development and maintenance costs and scalability (Bittencourt, et al., 2009). When reviewing the research, there was a wealth of case studies and best practices concerning the effects of gender and age on personalization, but further research was desired as it relates to gender.


Alsop, S. & Watts, M. (2003). Science education and affect. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 1043-1047.

Benz, M., Lindstrom, L., & Yovanoff, P. (2000). Improving graduation and employment outcomes of students with disabilities: Predictive factors and student perspectives. Exceptional Children, 66, 509-529.

Bittencourt, I., Costa, E., Silva, M. & Soares, E. (2009). A computational model for developing semantic web-based educational systems. Knowledge-Based Systems, 22, 302-315.

Cox, K. & Guthrie, J. (2001). Motivational and cognitive contributions to students’ amount of reading. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26, 116-131.

Eom, S., Wen, H., & Ashill, N. (2006). The determinants of students’ perceived learning outcomes and satisfaction in university online education: An empirical investigation. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 4, 215-235.

Fauske, J. & Wade, S. (2004). Research to practice online: Conditions that foster democracy, community, and critical thinking in computer-mediated discussions. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36, 137-153.

Goodnough, K. (2001). Multiple intelligences theory: A framework for personalizing science curricula. School Science and Mathematics, 101, 180-193.

Huffaker, D. (2004). The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote literacy in the classroom. First Monday, 9, 6-7.

Mayer, R. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13, 125-139.

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M. (2008). The three p’s of pedagogy for the networked society: Personalization, participation, and productivity. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 20, 10-27.

Ruiz, J. G. MD, Mintzer, M. J. MD, & Leipzig, R. M. MD, PhD. (2006). The impact of e-learning in medical education. The Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 81, 207-212.

Snibb, A.C. & Markus, H. (2005). You can’t always get what you want: Educational attainment, agency, and choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 703-720.