Shutting Down the Factory Model: Personalized Learning as a Paradigm Shift

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

This presentation will begin with a description of the state of personalized learning, definitions of personalized learning, and conceptual frameworks of schooling. Then tthe presenters will offer a collaborative activity for analyzing and sorting models of personalized learning including models that employ online learning in K-12 and higher education. Participants will develop a holistic perspective of personalized learning as a paradigm shift away from the factory model of schooling and be able to align models of personalized learning to their institutional missions.


Anissa is an associate professor of instructional technology in Kennesaw State University's Bagwell College of Education. She teaches graduate teacher education courses in instructional technology in online and hybrid formats, and supervises doctoral students. For the past several years, she has coordinated the online teaching endorsement at KSU that serves Georgia certified K-12 teachers. She is currently developing a personalized learning certificate program for educators at the graduate level. Her research has focused on innovative learning models including K-12 online learning and massive open online courses. Outside of teaching and research, she serves on various boards and committees related to educational innovation, online learning, and futurist planning at the university, state, and school districts levels.

Extended Abstract

This presentation will begin with lecture about the state of personalized learning, definitions of personalized learning, and conceptual frameworks of schooling. Then this presentation will offer a collaborative activity for analyzing and sorting models of personalized learning including models that employ online learning in K-12 and higher education. Participants will develop a holistic perspective of personalized learning as a paradigm shift away from the factory model of schooling and be able to align models of personalized learning to their institutional missions.

Presentation: The State of Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is a key theme of the latest national educational technology plan, and initiatives are active in every state across the country (Thomas, 2016). States like Rhode Island and Vermont are investing heavily in centralized state-wide K-12 programs for personalized learning, while other states like Georgia are facilitating flexibility of implementation with individual district and classroom pilots (Eduvate RI, 2016; General Assembly of the State of Vermont, 2013) . K-12 is not alone as higher education is also embracing personalized learning through groups like University Innovation Alliance , the Personalized Learning Consortium, and the USG’s Precision Academics workgroup (Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, 2019; Precision Academics, 2019; & University Innovation Alliance, 2019). Huge amounts of educational innovation funds are being invested in programs for personalized learning; however, agreement on what personalized learning is and the literature that supports its adoption are meager or weak.

Despite a weak empirical foundation for personalized learning, the trend persists leaving contradictory claims and disorganized initiatives. The chaotic fever surrounding personalized learning is likely because of foundational social contextual changes that are disrupting K-20 education and the abstract, seemingly over-used claim of personalized learning as a panacea to education’s problems. However, before models of personalized can be studied and deemed effective or ineffective, we must conceptualize personalized learning with a definition that is inclusive of the models currently in action.

Presentation: Definitions of Personalized Learning

In this presentation, the author will share a collection of definitions of personalized learning and identify key components to justify an inclusive definition. An historically informed and inclusive definition of personalized learning does not judge one definition as correct or incorrect, but instead seeks to provide a broader definition in which multiple varied definitions align and build off of the history of the context in which the phenomenon is situated.

For the purposes of this presentation, the author defines personalization as a paradigm shift in education that moves the purpose of education from normalizing the individual to optimizing the individual (authors). Normalization as the purpose of education was solidified in the U.S.A. through the Common School movement of the late nineteenth century through a factory model of learning (Keefe & Jenkins, 2008) and with the mass adoption of norm referenced testing and hierarchal grading systems; however, today, advances in technology are laying the foundation for education to shift toward a new purpose of optimizing the individual. This definition requires three fundamental assumptions. First, individuals have varying potentials that can be influenced through the systems of education. Second, the rate at which knowledge grows prevents all learners from learning all possible knowledge. Third, diversity in knowledge acquisition in both desirable and inevitable.

Presentation: Conceptual Frameworks of Schooling

As a system that seeks to optimize the individual, many models of personalized learning have emerged. The varied collection of personalized instructional models honor individual learner characteristics and needs to provide a unique learning experience towards mastery of curricula (Keefe & Jenkins, 2008; Kinshuck, 2016; Wolf, Bobst, & Mangum, 2017). Some models of personalized learning depend heavily on communication between the teacher and the learner for curricular planning. Some models rely on artificial intelligence and adaptive learning software to make the curricular decisions, while most fall somewhere in between using both technology and student-teacher engagement to provide an individualized educational experience. One of the more critical questions the authors ask of personalized learning models is who gets to decide what is optimal for each learner? Who is making the curricular decisions? Who has the power in a personalized learning model? Even more specifically, are the curricular decisions of what is optimal for the learner being decided democratically and cooperatively by  the learner and teacher, or is a neoliberal digital learning agent driving curricular decisions in each model of personalized learning? 

            In De Lissovy, Means, and Saltman’s text, Toward a New Common School Movement (2015), this historical Common School Movement as conceptualized by Horace Mann is couched as a progressive model intended to open economic mobility and social cooperation among the diverse population of a new nation; however, in time, conservative advocates sought to control and manage curricular content to reinforce dominant norms and sorting hierarchies. Following up on conservative control of curriculum, neoliberal advocates sought to use capitalistic market forces to control curriculum and other education systems. Both conservative and neoliberal efforts led to education becoming a system of sorting and normalizing fortified by norm-referenced testing systems, pacing guides, and mandated textbooks. “Common” came to mean normed and inflexible. For-profit charter schools are an illustration of the neoliberal common school approach. In contrast to the neoliberal system of schooling, a liberal concept of schooling is based on the beliefs that knowledge is neutral and education is a means to assimilation and political participation. According to De Lissovey, Means, and Saltman, liberal educators see student achievement as a fair measure and a protection of equal opportunity. Many public school advocates hold liberal views of education. Building further past the conservative, neoliberal, and liberal viewpoints of education, De Lissovy, Means, and Saltman propose a critical perspective of education and a new meaning of common, where “common” means a shared and democratic control of schooling. In a critical and democratic view of education, knowledge is fraught with bias and schools are the site of cultural struggles. Learner agency and critical consciousness are driving forces in a critical system of education. The authors of this presentation argue that a paradigm shift is also an opportunity for fundamental change in educational system design. A shift towards personalized learning, depending on the model designed and implemented, could be a shift towards liberal and critical systems of education.  A critical analysis of current models of personalized learning evident in K-12 and higher education is warranted to support leaders who are making decisions about the models of personalized learning best suited to their institutions.

Activity: Aligning Models of Personalized Learning to Conceptual Frameworks

In this interactive presentation, the authors will provide teams of session participants with a collection of note cards. On these note cards will be example models of personalized learning including models that employ online learning in both K-12 and higher education settings. One example of a model written on a notecard might be: Georgia State, Montclair State, and the University of Georgia build an introductory-level English composition course using the adaptive learning software, Acrobatiq (Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, 2019). Another example model on a notecard might be: Georgia 2018 Teacher of the Year, Ms. Townsend personalizes her elementary classroom by co-planning with her students one-on-one a project to demonstrate mastery of a science standard. Groups at the tables will be asked to sort these models of personalized learning as supporting one or more of the worldviews described by De Lissovy, Means, and Saltman (2015): conservative, neoliberal, liberal, or critical. Larger group discussion will expand on why various models of personalized learning fall among different conceptual frameworks. The session will end with a discussion of power evident in different personalized learning models and how our own institutions can identify the models most fitting for our institutional missions.



Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (2019). Personalized Learning Consortium. Last accessed on May 30, 2019 at

De Lissovoy, N., Means, A. J., & Saltman, K. J. (2015). Toward a new common school movement. Routledge.

Eduvate RI. (2016). Creating a Shared Understanding of Personalized Learning for Rhode Island, whitepaper last accessed on May 30, 2019 at

General Assembly of the State of Vermont. (2013). Act 77 S130 Sec. 1. Last accessed on May 30, 2019 at

Keefe, J. W., & Jenkins, J. M. (2008). Personalized instruction: The key to student achievement. Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Kinshuk. (2016). Designing adaptive and personalized learning environments. New York: Routledge.

Thomas, S. (2016). Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. 2016 National Education Technology Plan. Office of Educational Technology, US Department of Education.

Precision Academics. (2019). Precision acadmics in the University System of Georgia. Last accessed on May 30, 2019 at

University Innovation Alliance. (2019). Our universities. Last accessed on May 30, 2019 at

Wolf, M. A., Bobst, E., & Mangum, N. (2017). Leading Personalized and Digital Learning: A Framework for Implementing School Change. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.