Personalized Student Learning: Every Student, Every Semester

People learn best when they find relevance in what they are learning. For students this relevance is often hard to find (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2010). For many students the relevance is simply tied to the next exam and/or their grade.

Since each student is motivated in different ways and may find relevance in different ways, personalizing education (learning and assessment) should be a goal of educators. Every student, every semester should have the opportunity to continuously know where they are related to the desired outcomes. Students need real-time feedback on a daily basis.

The dilemma is that the learning environment is not conducive to individualized lesson plans and daily formative assessment. Classrooms are filled with 20, 60, 80, 100 students who all have a completely different set of needs, challenges, and goals. Given the intense workload faculty currently manage, adding the goal of personalized student learning seems to be a dream.

When instructional technology is effectively utilized, this dream can become a reality. As technology is considered to meet this goal, it is important for faculty to remember that enduring learning (long-term retention) comes from the student working through challenges, concepts and content. Deep learning does not come when a student is ‘told’ the information.

Technology should be sought that can help students quickly yet repeatedly identify what is most important and whether or not there is long-term retention and understanding (Bristol & Zerwekh, 2011). When students are not shown what is most important for professional practice, they either treat everything as most important or randomly pick and choose.

Tools that help students prioritize learning allow them to more efficiently attain the goal of developing the critical thinking ability. One prerequisite to developing critical thinking is being comfortable with the foundation upon which problem solving is based (Popkess & Frey, 2016). If the learner is constantly insecure because there are too many facts to learn, they will be delayed in critical thinking development.

Once priority learning has been delivered, students need tools that will help them quickly and repeatedly identify personal gaps in understanding (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2010). Whether it is the opportunity to ask for immediate clarification or to assess retention of material reviewed last week, today’s learner finds security in being assured that they are prepared for the exam and more importantly practice.

One final benefit of technology that personalizes student learning is that the faculty now have a continuous flow of data to help prioritize and personalize the learning experience. These instructional technologies can help faculty by giving data about the students in class. For instance, the item analysis from a quiz can help develop a lecture that will address gaps in learning for the students in class that day.

Every semester, every student needs a continuous flow of feedback that helps them focus on what is most important to address their own personal gaps in learning. Oh by the way, isn’t this what every professional should do every day of work?

To learn how Elsevier is revolutionizing personalized learning click here.


Benner, P., Sutphen, M., Leonard, V., & Day, L. (2010). Educating nurses: A call for radical transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bristol, T., & Zerwekh, J. (2011). Essentials of e-learning for nurse educators. Philadelphia, Pa: F.A. Davis.

Popkess, A.M. & Frey, J.L. (2016). Strategies to support diverse learning needs of students. In D.M. Billings & J.A. Halstead (Eds.), Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (5th ed., pp. 15-34). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, Inc.