Personalized Learning: A Childcare Provider’s Guide

Learn how you can use the skills, needs, and interests of your children to create an engaging, customized learning environment.

Personalized Learning: A Childcare Provider’s Guide

Personalized Learning: A Childcare Provider’s Guide

Imagine a “one-size-fits-all” preschool classroom. You had a designated time to teach your children a lesson on recognizing and counting numbers. Through the course of the lesson, you discovered three groups: Group one had already mastered the information before the lesson started, group two was able to succeed by the end of the lesson, and group three was still experiencing trouble. You might ask if the time was well spent for all children.

Utilizing personalized learning would have allowed group one to work on a more advanced lesson due to their mastery. While group two was working at an ideal pace for their skills, what about group three? Moving on from the lesson would cause the children in group three to fall behind; however, personalized learning would allow all these children to work at a pace that leads to successful learning.

By the end of this post, you’ll learn everything childcare providers need to know about personalized learning—what it is, what it looks like in the classroom, and its pros and cons.

children doing arts and crafts activity on table


What is personalized learning?

Personalized learning is a tailored system where the instructional approach and pace of learning are specified to the needs of an individual child. Instructional approaches, as well as learning objectives and instructional content, are based on the child’s needs, and learning activities are meaningful, relevant, and driven by their interests.

The goal of personalized learning is to engage children in the learning process to boost self-motivation for success. For example, instructing a child to count to 10 is different from involving them in the process. Personalized learning can help you empower children in decision-making and goal-setting, which can boost active engagement in the classroom.

This approach works particularly well when applied with the universal design for learning (UDL) framework. UDL creates an environment based on inclusivity where teachers focus on meeting the needs of all children to accommodate all abilities, disabilities, learning styles, and more. Incorporating the universal design for learning means providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression, making it possible to enhance personalized learning by catering to each child.

What does personalized learning look like?

While the system allows children to work at their own pace, personalized learning—when done correctly—still keeps children on track to meet the educational and developmental standards for their age. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), identified four attributes of highly effective personalized learning practices: learner profiles, personal learning paths, competency-based progression, and flexible learning. 

Learner profiles

Learner profiles provide a deeper look into the characteristics of a child—their skills, challenges, progress, goals, needs, and interests. They allow you to gain a better understanding of a child and use this information to make decisions that guide their education and development plan. 

Learner profiles are updated regularly to help educators, parents, and children keep track of their progress. To create a learner profile for a child, you might ask questions like: 

  • What are the strengths in how they learn? 
  • What challenges are present? 
  • How do they prefer to access information? 
  • How do they engage with content? 
  • How do they express what they know and understand? 
  • What are their talents, interests, and goals?

Personal learning paths

Personal learning paths provide children with a customized journey toward personal development that changes based on their progress, motivations, and goals. Learning paths are concrete, understandable lists of goals and objectives used to guide children toward greater competence and more advanced skills. They allow children to focus on independent learning through a tailored experience. 

Competency-based progression

Competency-based progression is a process where a child’s progress is continuously assessed against their goals or learning objectives. This practice ensures that children master a specific set of knowledge and skills based on demonstrated competence instead of instruction time received. For example, in competency-based progression, a child demonstrates their ability to count to 10 versus simply observing and participating in the activity for a set number of hours during instruction time.

Flexible learning

Flexible learning involves creating an environment that allows for using various teaching methods to adapt to how your children learn best. Physical environments have a significant impact on learning; however, flexible learning spaces can be both physical and abstract. 

In addition to maintaining appropriate childcare ratios, you want to consider space and learning materials when analyzing your physical learning environment. You might ask: Where and how are the children sitting? What surfaces are the children working on? Does the space allow for moving around? 

The abstract considerations might include technology, such as audio and visual aids. Are there auditory distractions? Can you set up the classroom to enhance the audio? Will you use a whiteboard or a blackboard? 

young boy with striped shirt playing with wooden blocks


When a child’s learning environment is flexible, learning becomes easier and more efficient.

Examples of personalized learning in an early childhood education setting might look like one-on-one teaching and peer help. One-on-one teaching offers systematic learning in an individualized manner. During this form of personalized learning, educators are expected to understand what the child already knows. Using that information, you can bridge existing knowledge to new concepts and skills by creating customized lesson plans and activities for each child. 

Peer help, similar to mentoring, is another way children can receive personalized learning. This creates opportunities for children to help and receive help from a classmate. For example, you might pair a child who excels in math but experiences some challenges in literacy skills with a child who has the opposite skills and challenges. Have the children act as classroom buddies to help each other throughout the day. In a lesson on counting, you could have the first child act as the group leader and guide the pair through the lesson. Alternatively, in an activity on letter recognition, you’d assign the second child to take the lead. It might help to remind the children that they’re not the boss but a friendly helper sharing what they know with their classmates.

Personalized learning benefits: Pros and cons

Personalized learning isn’t a new concept in education. Teachers have been employing this intentional teaching practice in early childhood, primary, and secondary education for decades. Like many other teaching tools, personalized learning has its pros and cons.

Benefits of personalized learning

Personalized learning gives teachers more time to focus on each child

By adopting personalized learning models, teachers have the opportunity to learn more about their children. They allow for targeted attention through individual or small-group work. One-on-one tutoring enables teachers to provide extra support to children by reviewing and reinforcing past material while working with the children’s current knowledge and skills. Personalized learning also offers the opportunity to introduce project-based instruction, which allows teachers to create lessons based on children’s interests.

Personalized learning increases engagement

Personalized learning is a system that allows for collaboration between educators and children. It’s an emergent curriculum method, or a child-centered teaching technique for creating essential and engaging lessons based on a child’s needs, skills, and interests, that makes learning more relevant for each child. When they can move at their own pace and develop a sense of control over their education, children are likely to become more engaged. When their needs, skills, and interests influence the course of their learning, it is easier for them to enjoy learning versus feeling forced to learn “just because.”

Personalized learning allows for more efficient learning

Personalized learning is tailored and efficient. It moves away from a standardized, one-size-fits-all system of learning. It neither slows down advanced children nor rushes children who are struggling. For example, in a classroom where some children already know their basic shapes, a standardized lesson on shapes would benefit only the children still learning their shapes. For the children who have already mastered them, their time might be better spent learning more advanced shapes, such as diamonds, ovals, and pentagons.

Disadvantages of personalized learning

Personalized learning can increase educational inequality

While standardized education has its flaws, so does personalized learning. When the latter is used exclusively over the former, it can intensify achievement gaps that are typically created by socioeconomic differences. Personalized learning platforms can push well-performing children by consistently providing them with more advanced content. Alternatively, it can leave struggling children with easier lessons that don’t challenge them. Personalized learning requires challenging lessons—for all children—and effective scaffolding to keep them advancing and prevent struggling children from falling behind.

Personalized learning can lead to massive data collection

Personalized learning is a data-driven practice. It uses information on a child’s skills to tailor the learning process; however, some worry about the data collection issues it imposes on young children. Personalized learning programs and apps often collect and share personal information without the user's knowledge. Depending on the device, they may have access to one’s exact location and can even access cameras. This poses a big threat when children access personalized learning on personal devices, because it opens the door to increased monitoring by apps and potential surveillance.

Learning can be flexible

Personalized learning is an adaptable education approach that allows children to learn at a pace based on their unique skills, needs, and interests. Although personalized learning has the potential to increase achievement gaps, this flexible learning practice can increase engagement and make learning more efficient for all children in the classroom.

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